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PNAS Paper and Its Authors Honored for Scientific Excellence

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February 26, 2008 | by Megan Fellman
EVANSTON, Ill. --- The editors of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) have awarded a paper by Monica Olvera de la Cruz and Graziano Vernizzi from Northwestern University's department of materials science and engineering the prestigious 2007 Cozzarelli Prize.

Olvera de la Cruz, senior author of the paper, is professor of materials science and engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and director of the Materials Research Center; Vernizzi, lead author of the paper and a member of Olvera de la Cruz's research group, is a research assistant professor.

The journal's editors selected six outstanding papers that reflect the highest standards of scientific excellence and originality from 3,600 research articles published by PNAS in 2007. The honored papers represent the six broadly defined classes under which the National Academy of Sciences, publisher of PNAS, is organized.

In the paper, titled "Faceting ionic shells into icosahedra via electrostatics," the researchers report discovering a new mechanism by which charged molecules -- some molecules of life among them -- organize themselves into closed shapes. Their work illuminates the age-old question of how molecules that in a fundamental sense are unable to distinguish any one direction from any other, like a sphere or featureless ball, can organize themselves into structures that are more complex and reflect the existence of special directions, like dice with numbered sides.

Biomolecular assemblies exploit such directions for performing essential functions in living organisms. The Northwestern research, which was supported by the National Science Foundation, may open a new frontier of learning how to design functional nanostructures using a kind of molecular engineering that exploits how different charged molecules arrange themselves.

The award was established in 2005 as the PNAS Paper of the Year Prize and renamed the Cozzarelli Prize in 2007 to honor late PNAS Editor-in-Chief Nicholas R. Cozzarelli. The annual award acknowledges papers published in PNAS during the previous year that reflect exceptional contributions to the scientific disciplines represented by the National Academy of Sciences.
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