Benkovic honored as 'Best of the Best' by the Franklin Institute

February 19, 2009

University Park, Pa. — Stephen J. Benkovic, Evan Pugh professor and Eberly Family Chair in chemistry at Penn State, will be honored as the recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science on April 23, during a gala black-tie ceremony and dinner at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. The Franklin Institute Awards have been given to Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Marie and Pierre Curie, Orville Wright, Jane Goodall, and others, including many who have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize, since the award was established in 1824.

Robert Bazell, of NBC News, will host the event, which will celebrate the extraordinary contributions of Benkovic and seven other preeminent trailblazers in science, business, and technology who will receive Franklin Institute awards. Benkovic and five other honorees will receive Benjamin Franklin Medals, visionary T. Boone Pickens will receive the Bower Award for Business Leadership, and Sandra M. Faber will receive the Bower Award for Achievement in Science for her achievements in the area of cosmology. Benkovic's citation as a medal recipient lauds him for his "groundbreaking contributions to our mechanistic understanding of enzymes, and for helping to unravel the complexities of the enzymes involved in DNA replication."

Benkovic's research accomplishments have been described as highly original, of unusual breadth, and as having a profound impact on understanding how proteins function as catalysts. His work is continually considered to be at the forefront of research being done at the interface of chemistry and biology, and he is considered to be among the most prominent mechanistic enzymologists in the world. His studies feature state-of-the-art chemical-biological techniques that include the development and application of innovative kinetic methods; the invention of novel biological protocols for interrogating the chemical sequence and structural basis of enzyme activity; and a discovery of enzyme inhibitors with therapeutic potential. With these techniques, he has studied many different enzyme systems that are important in human biology, including research that has been of fundamental importance in the design of cancer drugs and antibiotics. More information on his research is on the Web at

Some of the many awards bestowed on Benkovic in recognition of his scientific achievements include his being named a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984, a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1985, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1987, a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1995, and a member of the American Philosophical Society in 2002.

A 1960 magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Lehigh University with a bachelor of arts degree in English literature and a bachelor of science degree in chemistry, Benkovic earned a doctoral degree in organic chemistry with minors in physical chemistry and biochemistry at Cornell University in 1963.  From 1964 to 1965 he was a postdoctoral research associate at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He joined the Penn State faculty as an assistant professor of chemistry in 1965 and was promoted to associate professor in 1967 then to professor in 1970. The University honored him with the title of Evan Pugh professor of chemistry in 1977, holder of the University Chair in Biological Sciences in 1984, and Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in chemistry in 1986.

Benkovic is the author or coauthor of more than 500 scientific papers and the invited presenter of numerous lectures worldwide. His wife, Pat Benkovic, is a co-author on many papers as a result of her deep involvement in the laboratory's key research areas. He is a member of the Board of Reviewing Editors of the journalScience, and is a member of editorial or advisory boards of six scientific journals, including Assay and Drug Development Technologies, Biochemistry, Biocatalysis and Biotransformation, BMB Biochemistry, ChemBioChem, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He is the co-author, with Thomas C. Bruice, of the classic two-volume set of texts titled "Bioorganic Mechanisms."

Benkovic is a member of the American Chemical Society, the Federation of American Biologists, Sigma Xi and the Chemical Society. He serves as a scientific adviser to the Corning, Senomyx, and Anacor companies, as well as the venture-capital firms Rho and Ascent Bio Ventures. Locally, he is a member of the external advisory group for the Geisinger Medical Center as well as various committees for the Penn State Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences.

His previous awards include the Eastman Kodak Scientific Award in 1962, the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship from 1968 to 1974, the National Institutes of Health Career Development Award from 1969 to 1974, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1976, the Pfizer Enzyme Award in 1977, the Gowland Hopkins Award in 1986, the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award in 1988, the National Institutes of Health Merit Award in 1988, the Repligen Award in 1989, the Bicentennial Scientific Achievement Award of the City College of New York in 1990, and the Alfred Bader Award of the American Chemical Society in 1994, an honorary doctorate of science degree from Lehigh University in 1995, the Wellcome Visiting Professorship at the Massachusetts Medical Center in 1996, the Chemical Pioneer Award of the American Institute of Chemists in 1998, the Christian B. Anfinsen Award in 2000, the Merck Award of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 2003, and the Nakanishi Prize of the American Chemical Society in 2005.

The Franklin Institute awards ceremony is considered one of the preeminent social events in Philadelphia, crowning a week-long series of activities featuring the award winners during events aimed at bringing science education and outreach opportunities to the community. Beginning on Tuesday, April 21, Franklin Institute Award medalists will be on hand to participate in a series of events and activities at The Franklin Institute that are open to middle-school, high-school and college students, as well as to the general public. Each laureate will take part in a seminar or lecture focusing on his or her area of expertise at various universities throughout the city and at The Franklin Institute.

These events, most of which are free, provide a rare opportunity to meet and talk with some of the most exceptional minds in the world. The institute's Laureates' Laboratory will feature interactive demonstrations illustrating the specific concepts behind each laureate's work. Meet the Scientists, a lively, interactive discussion geared toward students, will be moderated by members of one of The Franklin Institute's programs for middle-school and high-school students in Philadelphia.

The culmination of this exciting week is the Awards Ceremony and Dinner, which takes place on Thursday, April 23 at The Franklin Institute. The highlight of this black-tie event is the presentation of the medals to the laureates. Programs like The Franklin Institute Awards, which inspire a passion for learning about science and technology, are made possible by the institute's partners, including Bank of America; Cephalon, Inc.; Centocor Ortho Biotech Inc., Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Four Seasons Hotel; Philadelphia Newspapers, LLC; and West Pharmaceutical Services, Inc.

The Web site for downloadable high-resolution photos, videos, and further information is on the Web at The Web site for the 2009 Franklin Institute Awards is

  • Stephen J. Benkovic, Evan Pugh professor and Eberly family chair in chemistry at Penn State. For additional information and photos, click on the image.

    IMAGE: Greg Grieco

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Last Updated January 09, 2015