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Media Contact:
Tracey Peake, News Services, 919/515-3470

Jan. 31, 2005

NC State Chemists Get $1 Million Grant from Keck Foundation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Dr. Stefan Franzen and Dr. Daniel Feldheim
NC State researchers Dr. Stefan Franzen (left) and Dr. Daniel Feldheim. Not pictured is Dr. Bruce Eaton, currently on a research sabbatical.

North Carolina State University has received a $1 million gift from the W.M. Keck Foundation to further research on RNA-mediated evolutionary materials chemistry. This new field will influence advances in other fields such as materials science, nanotechnology and biotechnology.

The grant will help support the ongoing work of Dr. Daniel Feldheim, associate professor of chemistry, Dr. Bruce Eaton, professor of chemistry, and Dr. Stefan Franzen, associate professor of chemistry, who have shown that the biological molecule RNA can be used to assemble nanoparticle materials. Nanoparticles are particles less than one billionth of a meter in size.

“Ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules are part of nature’s blueprint for synthesizing other molecules,” Feldheim said. “We’re working to harness RNA’s ability to catalyze reactions, and use it to develop new inorganic materials.”

Feldheim and Eaton developed a technique to coax specific sequences of lab-manufactured RNA into building inorganic materials, essentially “harnessing evolution in a beaker.” They published their findings in the April 16, 2004 edition of Science.

The Keck grant will support further exploration of using RNA to create new classes of nanoparticle materials with specific desired properties, such as the ability to produce hydrogen. If RNA can create new materials that produce significant amounts of hydrogen, the scientists say, these materials may lead to development of alternative energy sources.

The grant also will help support an NC State center for evolutionary chemistry that is in the process of being established.

“The Keck Foundation is recognized for its leadership in driving the creation of new knowledge,” said Dr. Daniel Solomon, dean of the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. “We are excited to receive its support of our chemists’ work in the new field of evolutionary materials chemistry.”

Based in Los Angeles, the W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by the late W. M. Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company. The foundation’s grant making is focused primarily on pioneering efforts in the areas of medical research, science and engineering.

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