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Stubbe wins Welch Award

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JoAnne Stubbe
MIT professor JoAnne Stubbe, College of Chemistry alumna and this year's commencement speaker.
Photo courtesy of Jason Varney, MIT.

May 13, 2010

MIT professor JoAnne Stubbe, College of Chemistry alumna and this year’s commencement speaker, has won the Welch Award, along with Christopher Walsh of Harvard Medical School. The recipients have helped explain how enzymes, proteins that act as catalysts to speed up reactions millions-fold, have evolved to carry out difficult and ingenious chemistry critical to life. Their basic research has laid the groundwork for therapeutic advances in medicine, particularly the treatment of cancer.

“These two scientists, long-time friends who share a passion for knowledge, have made hugely important contributions to our understanding of the chemistry of biological functions in the enzymes that make life possible. Their work has led to new therapeutic treatments, including new antibiotics and new cancer treatments, among other advances that improve the quality of life,” said Ernest H. Cockrell, chair of The Welch Foundation. 

Stubbe, Novartis Professor of Chemistry and Biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been called a “scientist’s scientist.” Her laboratory is known for using multiple tools – often working with collaborators to create new research techniques – to explore a particular area in great depth. Her most noted work, for which she was awarded the National Medal of Science last year, involves a key class of enzymes that play an essential role in DNA replication and repair.

Stubbe has focused most of her career studying the mechanisms of enzymes involved in nucleotide metabolism, central to the biosynthesis of DNA and RNA. Her success in unraveling the specific steps in enzymatic reactions over the past four decades has had profound impact on fields ranging from cancer drug development to synthesis of biodegradable plastics.

Born in Champaign, IL, Stubbe earned her B.S. in chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania and her Ph.D. from Berkeley in 1971. She taught at Williams College before returning to research at Brandeis (working as postdoc in 1995 Welch Award recipient Robert Abeles’ lab), Yale and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She joined the MIT faculty in 1987, recruited there by co-recipient Dr. Walsh.

The Welch Foundation supports science through research and departmental grants, funding of endowed chairs, an annual chemical conference, and support for other chemistry-related programs. In addition to the Welch Award, the Foundation annually bestows the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research to recognize the accomplishments of “rising star” chemical scientists in Texas. The 2010 Welch Award recipients will share $300,000, and each will receive a gold medallion.

More Information

For more information on the Foundation and a list of previous Welch Award recipients, please visit

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