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Two Inaugural Vagelos Chairs in Chemistry:
David Christianson & Michael Therien

David Christianson
Michael Therien

SAS Dean Samuel H. Preston has announced the inaugural holders of two new chairs. Dr. David W. Christianson has been named the inaugural holder of the Roy and Diana Vagelos Professorship in Chemistry and Chemical Biology and Dr. Michael J. Therien has been named the inaugural holder of the Alan MacDiarmid Endowed Term Chair in Chemistry.

Dr. Christianson joined the Department of Chemistry as an assistant professor in 1988, was appointed full professor in 1996, and held the Edmund and Louise Kahn Endowed Term Chair in the Natural Sciences from 1999 to 2002. Before coming to Penn, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, where he also earned A.B. and Ph.D. degrees in 1983 and 1987, respectively. He is well known for his work in biological chemistry, focusing on the structure and function of metal-requiring enzymes. In recent years, his research has illuminated complex molecular mechanisms in the biosynthesis of terpenes, a family of natural products that includes menthol, cholesterol, and the anticancer drug Taxol. He has also discovered a new metalloenzyme that plays a key role in the chemistry of male and female sexual arousal.

He has been named an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator, an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellow, a Searle Scholar, and a Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar. In 1999, he received the Pfizer Award in Enzyme Chemistry from the Biological Chemistry Division of the American Chemical Society. Dr. Christianson teaches biochemistry and serves as an adviser in the Roy and Diana Vagelos Scholars Program for the Molecular Life Sciences. The outstanding undergraduate students in this program comprise the next generation of biomedical scientists who will have a true understanding of living systems at the molecular level.

This chair was created in 2002 by Dr. P. Roy Vagelos, C'50, Hon'99, and his wife Diana T. Vagelos. Dr. Vagelos, who majored in chemistry as a Penn undergraduate, is the former chairman of the University's Board of Trustees and the retired chairman of Merck & Co., Inc. Mrs. Vagelos is a former Overseer of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Dr. Therien has been a member of the Department of Chemistry since 1990 and was appointed full professor in 1997. He received his undergraduate education at St. Andrews University (Scotland) and the University of California, Los Angeles, graduating with a B.S. in 1982. He was awarded his Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego, in 1987, following which he spent three years at the California Institute of Technology as an NIH Postdoctoral Research Fellow. His current research interests include probing mechanisms in bioinorganic and bioorganic electron transfer reactions, synthesizing chromophores and materials that display unusual optoelectronic and nonlinear optical properties, introducing new design concepts that will enable the control of supramolecular photophysical properties, and building new catalysts that activate and facilitate multielectron redox reactions of small molecules.

Dr. Therien's previous honors have included fellowships from the Dreyfus and Alfred P. Sloan Foundations and young investigator awards from the Journal of Porphyrins and Phthalocyanines, the National Science Foundation, E.I. duPont de Nemours, the Beckman Foundation, and the Searle Scholars Program.

This chair was established by Dr. and Mrs. Vagelos in 2002 (Almanac, January 29, 2002) in honor of Nobel laureate and Blanchard Professor of Chemistry Dr. Alan MacDiarmid.


  Almanac, Vol. 49, No. 27, April 1, 2003