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UC Berkeley chemistry professor wins prestigious Japan Prize

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JANUARY 31, 2013

A UC Berkeley chemistry professor has received a 2013 Japan Prize, one of the most prestigious international awards a researcher can receive in science and technology.

Professor emeritus Jean Frechet, who is in the campus department of chemistry, was awarded the prize along with his colleague Grant Willson, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, for their development of chemically amplified resist polymer materials for semiconductor manufacturing.

According to The Japan Prize Association’s website, the award is given to “scientists and engineers from around the world who have made significant contributions to the advancement of science and technology, thereby furthering the cause of peace and prosperity of mankind.”

Frechet and Willson, along with the late Hiroshi Itoh, built their invention to be used for lithography in the early 1980s. They are now recognized for the invention of a new technology, chemically amplified resists, which are light-sensitive materials that enable the manufacturing of computer chips.

Frechet and Willson will share a cash prize of approximately $650,000.

According to Richard Mathies, dean of the campus college of chemistry, the technology that Frechet helped develop is key to the production of circuits and memory chips at the heart of personal computers, mobile phones and other electronic devices.

“The worldwide economic impact of this invention has been tremendous,” Mathies said in an email.

He noted that Frechet has used polymers to make many other valuable discoveries including the delivery of drugs, vaccines and DNA.

“The College of Chemistry and the Chemistry Department are extremely pleased and proud to hear of this most deserving recognition of Professor Frechet’s research,” Mathies added.

Frechet joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1997. During his tenure, he served as a scientific director at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Molecular Foundry. In 2010, he became vice president for research at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia but still maintains an active research lab on the UC Berkeley campus.

The prize is awarded by the Japan Prize Foundation, which gathered over 13,000 prominent scientists and researchers around the world to help select nominees for the award.

Rutgers University professor John Frederick Grassle also received a Japan Prize for his research on the ecology and biodiversity of deep-sea organisms.

In his acceptance speech, Frechet offered advice to young researchers trying to make their mark.

“Gather a team of people with different backgrounds,” he said. “Some who will be able to draw from their experience and intimate knowledge of a technology and others with a different background and perhaps little experience but who may be able to suggest new or unusual ideas.”

Contact Sara Grossman and Virgie Hoban at [email protected].

FEBRUARY 01, 2013