2000 CAFA Awards

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Achievement Award - Professor Jean Chen Shih

Jean Chen Shih, Ph. D. Boyd and Elsie Welin Professor, is an internationally recognized leader in the field of neurobiology whose research has stimulated important international collaborations and made pivotal advances to our understanding of neurotransmitter function. Her landmark contributions include the discovery of chemicals that aid in the identification of brain proteins, the pioneering of techniques in protein chemistry, and the isolation of the genes coding for serotonin receptors and monoamine oxidase (MAO), both of which play key roles in regulating brain function.

Professor Shih and her colleagues have also established a link between genes and behavior, one of the most significant developments of recent years. This has significant implications for the development of therapeutic approaches and the early detection of brain disorders such as mental depression, Parkinson's disease and impulsive aggressive behavior.

She has received numerous honors, including the prestigious Research Scientist Award and two MERIT Awards, the highest honor bestowed by the National Institute of Health. For the contributions she has made to neurobiology and the honor she has brought to USC, she received the 1999 USC Associates Award for Creativity in Research and Scholarship.

She was the Biological Division Director at the School of Pharmacy and served at NIH study sections for ten years. She has been elected as the Vice-Chair of the International Brain Research Organization, National Academy of Sciences, the President-elect for the Society of Chinese Bioscientists in America and the Councilor for the International Serotonin Club. She has served on numerous advisory boards of international societies. She is active in teaching, professional and community services.

Shih Received her BS from National Taiwan University and her Ph.D, in Biochemistry from University of California, Riverside. She was a Postdoctral fellow at UCLA before joined the faculty at USC .

Her husband, John Chau Shih , is the founder and CEO of S-Y Technology Inc. They have two sons: Jeff, Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education, University of Nevada, Las Vegas; and Jack, Computer Animator, South Park.

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Service Award - Professor Sunney I. Chan

Sunney Chan is currently Academic Vice President of Academia Sinica in Taiwan and George Grant Hoag Professor of Biophysical Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology.

Sunney was born and raised in San Francisco, but attended high school in HongKong. He returned to the US for college, where he first enrolled at the University of San Francisco, and subsequently transferred to the Berkeley campus of the University of California. His early ambition was to become a Jesuit priest. However, due to family pressures, he entered Cal as a pre-med major, but quickly transferred to chemical engineering.

Sunney graduated at the top of his class with a B.S. in chemical engineering in 1957. He elected to stay on at Berkeley for his graduate study in physical chemistry. His thesis research was in the field of microwave and far-infrared spectroscopy, where he used these spectroscopic methods to work out the three-dimensional structure of molecules in the gas phase. This work led to the first example of a quartic "anharmonic" oscillator. Sunney completed this research for his Ph.D. in August 1960, a month before his 24th birthday.

Following Berkeley, Sunney went to Harvard University on a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to enhance his training in molecular physics. Here he did some of the first NMR experiments of complex molecules in a molecular beam in the laboratory of Professor Norman Ramsey. The postdoctoral training at Harvard was a turning point in Sunney's career, as it did much to spark his interest in academic teaching and research.

In 1961, Sunney returned to California to become an assistant professor in chemistry at UC Riverside. His tenure there was short-lived, as within a year he was enticed to move across town to join the chemistry faculty at the California Institute of Technology. Here Sunney quickly moved up the ranks. In 1968, he was promoted to Professor of Chemical Physics; in 1976, Professor of Chemical Physics and Biophysical Chemistry; and in 1992, George Grant Hoag Professor of Biophysical Chemistry.

Sunney's career at Caltech has spanned a total of almost 38 years. He is perhaps best known for his tour of duty as Master of Student Houses (1980-83); and his service as Chair of the Caltech Centennial Steering Committee, that planned the Caltech Centennial Celebration (1988-90). He also served as Faculty Chair (198789), and served twice as Executive Officer in Chemistry (1978-80 and 89-94). From 1979-88, Sunney was also Director of the National Science Foundation Southern California Regional NMR Facility.

In research, Sunney is best known for his development and applications of the methods of physics to probe and characterize the structure and interactions of biological molecules in solution. He was the first to use NMR spectroscopy to study the base-stacking of nucleic acid bases in aqueous solution, and to characterize the dynamics of a biological membrane in terms of a hierarchy of molecular motions. It is now common knowledge that the base-stacking interactions provide the vertical forces that stabilize the secondary structures of DNA and RNA in aqueous solution. The dynamical structure of the bilayer membrane is critical to the transport of solutes across the cell membrane as well as the efficacy of all sorts of processes mediated by proteins embedded within the membrane. In recent years, Sunney has turned his attention to unraveling the structure and function of molecular machines within living cells. He is particularly known for his many original and seminal contributions to our understanding of electron-driven proton pumps. His recent work on the isolation and characterization of an enzyme from methanotrophic bacteria capable of converting methane to methanol with high efficiency has also received wide attention.

In 1998, Sunney accepted Dr. Yuan T. Lee's invitation to move to Taiwan to become Director of the Institute of Chemistry at Academia Sinica and to help him rebuild this institute into a world-class center for research in modern chemistry. Since July 1, 1999, Sunney has also taken over as Academic Vice President of the Academy. In his new position, Sunney has overall responsibility over academic standards and the development of research within Academia Sinica.

Sunney's science and his intellectual leadership has been widely recognized by numerous awards and memberships in learned societies. However, Sunney is, perhaps, most proud of the some 80 graduate students and 60 postdoctoral collaborators whom he has trained and mentored over the almost 40 years of his scientific career. Many of his former students and postdocs have gone on to create important new areas of science and research, and many now hold influential leadership positions in academia and industry. Finally, aside from teaching and research, Sunney is also noted for his devotion to the welfare of Caltech undergraduates. In appreciation of his generosity, a group of Caltech alumni recently created and endowed an undergraduate scholarship in Sunney's name.

Finally, over the years, Sunney has been active in community and public service as well. He was a founding member of CAFA, served twice as the CAFA President, and was recipient of the CAFA Achievement Award in 1990. He has also chaired the Caltech Y Board of Directors (1992-93) and the Board of the Chinese-American Chemical Society (1988-98). Sunney has been a regular consultant to the National Institutes of Health since 1970, and has served on many NIH Advisory Committees, including the Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry Study Section (1970-74), the Physical Biochemistry Study Section (1989-93), and the National Cancer Institute Review Board (1996-97). In addition, he is a member of many scientific advisory committees in the US and abroad, including the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory, Academia Sinica, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. For many years (1983-98), Sunney also served as an Associate Editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the prestigious journal devoted to the dissemination of original research results in fundamental and applied chemistry.

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