Dr. Chad Alexander Mirkin
Shape is one of the most basic of concepts. Along with numbers, letters, and colors, the idea of shape is one of the first that children explore. In the context of biomedicine, pharmacology, and biotechnology, Chad Mirkin posed a series of interesting questions many years ago, child-like in their curiosity, but deeply profound in their implications: What happens when one arranges nucleic acids–arguably the most important class of molecules known to man–into different shapes? How does shape affect the nanoscale properties of such biological systems? How can one use these nucleic acid nanostructures and their unusual new properties to better humanity? These questions are so rich that it has taken Mirkin and fellow researchers almost 20 years to begin to fully answer them, and the materials and processes he has invented along the way are profoundly impacting the life sciences, clinical diagnostics, gene regulation, and biomedicine.
In 1996, Mirkin was the first to utilize spherical nanoparticles to template the formation of three-dimensional nucleic acid-based nanostructures–so-called spherical nucleic acids (SNAs). The properties of nanomaterials are highly dependent on their size, shape, and composition, and Mirkin found that, on a sequence-for-sequence basis, SNAs act very differently than the analogous linear forms of nucleic acids in almost every way.
Mirkin’s life’s work has focused on learning how to successfully exploit these differences to invent and develop extraordinarily useful diagnostic and therapeutic systems that far-exceed conventional ones in terms of their capabilities and enable experiments that cannot be accomplished using any other methodology. Mirkin is a deep thinker and visionary researcher who has opened new fields, created new industries, and who has asked and answered some of the most fundamentally important questions in science–those that are central to understanding life itself.