Chemistry is the study of the structure and composition of matter, its properties and reactions. As a practice, it dates back thousands of years and was used to produce everything from perfume and cheese to glass and bronze. Today, there are scores of specialized disciplines within the field of chemistry.
What sets chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) apart is the extraordinary level of collaboration between chemists and biologists. Rather than isolating faculty members and laboratories into separate disciplines, cooperation is encouraged and embraced, and biologists and chemists regularly work together on important research projects. Faculty members maintain broad research programs in areas as diverse as biological and chemical catalysis, synthesis of natural products, combinatorial chemistry, molecular design, chemical evolution, materials science, and chemical biology.
The result is a synthesis in which faculty members can apply the tools and techniques of chemistry, such as the creation of synthetic compounds, to the study of biological systems. Chemical biologists can use chemical principles to alter biological systems and reveal their underlying mechanisms or to create new biological functions, an approach particularly useful in the search for new therapeutic compounds. With the recent establishment of the Scripps Florida campus, the institute has also harnessed the adaptive power of medicinal chemistry and powerful screening technologies for the development of early-stage drug candidates for a number of diseases.
In California, TSRI is home to The Skaggs Institute of Chemical Biology; Skaggs Institute members hold dual appointments with other TSRI departments. These scientists apply their expertise to a range of goals such as determining the structure of biological macromolecules, synthesizing large combinatorial libraries to screen for potential therapeutic compounds, and designing novel methods for molecular modeling.
Widely known for their work in areas relating to biology and medicine, TSRI chemists have produced breakthroughs from the synthesis of the anticancer drug taxol and other potential chemotherapeutic agents to providing revolutionary new approaches to drug development.
In 2001, K. Barry Sharpless, W.M. Keck Professor of Chemistry and member of the Skaggs Institute at TSRI, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the "development of catalytic asymmetric synthesis," which allows for the manufacture of safer and more effective antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, heart medicines, and agricultural chemicals.
In 2002, Kurt Wüthrich, Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Visiting Professor of Structural Biology and a member of the Skaggs Institute at TSRI, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for applying the technique of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to solving the structures of biological macromolecules—the DNA, proteins, sugars, and lipids of life that make up all the important structures of the cell. NMR structures have recently been critical in the design of drugs to treat, for instance, cancer and HIV.
The Scripps Research Institute was noted as a standout in the Science Watch survey of "high-impact" papers in chemistry published between 1997 and 2008, ranked number one worldwide by citations per paper. Another measure of productivity, the Hirsch Index (which has been published by Chemistry World), placed seven TSRI scientists—Kurt Wüthrich, K.C. Nicolaou, K. Barry Sharpless, Richard Lerner, John Yates, III, Peter Schultz, and Chi-Huey Wong—in the top 100 of 2,000 chemists rated.
According to the 2010 edition of U.S. News & World Report, TSRI's Kellogg School of Science and Technology ranked seventh overall in chemistry, with a ranking of third in organic chemistry and fourth in the specialty of biochemistry.
For more information on TSRI scientific achievements, see a list of highlights.