“I’m just deeply honored – somewhat humbled,” Dervan said by phone from San Francisco on Wednesday. “You hope that with some combination of the research that you’re doing and the students that you’re mentoring that you’re doing some good.” Dervan, a 63-year-old San Marino resident, has been a Caltech professor since 1973 and was a past department chairman. His work in synthetic organic chemistry blurred the boundary between chemistry and biology. “Chemists are sort of like artists in that, in addition to studying nature, we construct molecules,” he said of his research. Dervan has spent his Caltech career working to build molecules that can penetrate cells and target specific sequences of DNA. Such “designer molecules” could perhaps have applications in treating many diseases, including cancer, by regulating how genes are turned on or off. PASADENA – Caltech chemist Peter Dervan has been named one of eight recipients of the prestigious National Medal of Science for 2006. The prize, granted for pioneering research in physical, biological, mathematical, engineering, behavioral or engineering science, will be awarded at the White House on July 27. “The National Medal of Science is America’s highest scientific honor and a wonderful recognition of Peter’s many contributions to chemistry and biology,” said David Tirrell, chair of the chemistry and chemical engineering department at Caltech. One-fifth of previous National Medal of Science recipients have gone on to win a Nobel Prize. “It’s really being able to say, `Let’s model what biology does, and then lets improve on it,”‘ said Scott Strobel, a former graduate student in Dervan’s lab who is now the chair of the molecular biochemistry and biophysics department at Yale University. Although Dervan expected it would be at least five to 10 more years before his work made its way into pharmaceuticals, he said he hoped to begin small animal tests within the next three or four. Dervan, who credited his mentors for his academic success, has himself been a mentor to many leading bio-organic chemists in the country who passed through his lab as students. “He is highly optimistic, very energetic, very enthusiastic and very exacting,” Strobel said. “He writes beautiful papers, and that standard and enthusiasm really draws people to him.” [email protected] (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4451160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!