In an award nomination letter shared with The Scientist, Corey describes Baran as “an incredibly bright, creative, and productive synthetic organic chemist who is destined to lead his generation to new heights of achievement.” Baran has also expertly trained chemists who now run independent labs and who sing the praises of not only his scientific and mentoring skills, but also his dedication to chemistry. “His enthusiasm just blew me away. It’s like a drug,” says Noah Burns, who was a graduate student with Baran and is now an assistant professor of chemistry at Stanford University. “He knows how to create the perfect environment for good science to happen, and that actually may be his biggest gift.”
By typical scientific metrics alone, Baran is thoroughly impressive. He trained with two of most notable organic chemists of our time, Scripps’ K.C. Nicolaou and Nobel laureate E.J. Corey at Harvard, earning his Ph.D. at 24, an independent laboratory position at 26, and tenure at 28. (For comparison, the average age for biomedical researchers receiving their first independent NIH grant is 42.)
That responsibility jumped again when, at age 25, Baran returned to Scripps to run his own lab. “It’s exhilarating and also terrifying.” Managing and funding a team, and dealing with not just your own lab failures but other people’s, that was new and challenging to someone who had lived for the chemistry itself. Now, the focus is on “sustaining the momentum,” Baran says. “I’m constantly thinking about what’s next.”
“I would like to congratulate Phil on this honor, which recognizes his contributions to novel methods in chemistry and the potential of his work to create life-saving medicines,” said TSRI President Steve Kay. “We are proud of Phil, not just as a faculty member but also as an alumnus of our graduate program.”
The Blavatnik National Award includes an unrestricted cash award of $250,000 — the largest unrestricted cash award given to early-career scientists.
Dr. Baran has continuously pushed the boundaries of what is possible in organic synthetic chemistry. With his talented cadre of students at his laboratory at TSRI, he has focused his efforts on the invention of new reactions of broad utility and the synthesis of complex natural products in a scalable, economic fashion. At Sirenas Marine Discovery, Baran is helping push promising discoveries closer towards the clinic by helping optimize the production and properties of new, potential medicines inspired by complex marine natural products.
At the age of just 36, he has already racked up some of the most lauded natural product syntheses in history, and won dozens of the field’s highest accolades. Last year, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship – often referred to as a ‘genius grant’ – worth $625,000 over five years. ‘He’s the best synthetic chemist of his generation,’ says David Schuster of New York University in the US. ‘And he’s a helluva nice guy.’
This should be interesting – Phil Baran of Scripps will be going on Reddit at 2 PM EST (update: looks like he’s already at it) to do one of their “Ask Me Anything” conversations. My own experiences taking questions there is colored by working in the pharma industry; as you’d imagine, a good number of questions come it things from that angle, rather than chemistry (or medicinal chemistry) per se. I have gotten some interesting, thoughtful questions when I’ve done these, but I’ve also gotten some live-the-stereotype ones along the lines of “How come you greedy @#$! don’t release your secret cancer cures” and “Hey, why don’t you guys read the newspaper ’cause cannabis, like, treats everything”.
The work that they do bridges the gap between fundamental chemistry and applied science, Baran said. What they invent is fundamental, but at the same time, if the problem is chosen correctly, it can have a tangible and dramatic impact on real life problems.
Phil Baran may be a seriously hotshot scientist—the recent winner of a MacArthur Fellowship, in fact—but he’s also a bit of a wise guy. The proof? The pinky ring he wears even while working in his synthetic chemistry lab at La Jolla’s internationally acclaimed Scripps Research Institute. “I really love The Sopranos,” says Baran, whose wit is nearly as impressive as his CV.
Known as a prodigious researcher, Baran, 36, has already racked up more than 100 peer-reviewed papers to his credit. And those working in the difficult field of medicinal chemistry praise Baran for making their jobs easier and more productive.
Phil S. Baran (born 1977) is a Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the Scripps Research Institute and Member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology. He received his B.S. in chemistry from New York University in 1997 and his Ph.D. from The Scripps Research Institute in 2001, under the supervision of K.C. Nicolaou. He did his postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Nobel Laureate E. J. Corey at Harvard University.
Baran has authored over 130 published scientific articles. He has several patents.
His work is focused on synthesizing complex organic compounds, the development of new reactions, and the development of new reagents.
Awards and Honors Mukaiyama Award, 2014
MacArthur Fellowship, 2013
Royal Society of Chemistry Synthetic Organic Chemistry Award, 2013
ACS San Diego Section Distinguished Scientist Award, 2012
ISHC Katritzky Heterocyclic Chemistry Award, 2011
Thieme–IUPAC Prize in Synthetic Organic Chemistry, 2010
ACS Award in Pure Chemistry, 2010
Sackler Prize, 2009
Novartis Lecturer, 2007 – 2008
Hirata Gold Medal, 2007
National Fresenius Award, 2007
Pfizer Award for Creativity in Organic Chemistry, 2006
Beckman Young Investigators Award, 2006
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow, 2006-2008
BMS Unrestricted “Freedom to Discover” Grant, 2006 – 2010
NSF Career, 2006 – 2010
Eli-Lilly Young Investigator Award, 2005 – 2006
AstraZeneca Excellence in Chemistry Award, 2005
DuPont Young Professor Award, 2005
Roche Excellence in Chemistry Award, 2005
Amgen Young Investigator Award, 2005
Searle Scholar Award, 2005
GlaxoSmithKline Chemistry Scholar Award, 2005-2006
Nobel Laureate Signature Award for Graduate Education in Chemistry, ACS, 2003
National Institutes of Health Post-Doctoral Fellowship Award, Harvard, 2001 – 2003
Hoffmann-La Roche Award for Excellence in Organic Chemistry, 2000
Lesly Starr Shelton Award for Excellence in Chemistry Graduate Studies, 2000
National Science Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellowship Award, Scripps, 1998-2001