Purdue professor wins Dreyfus Prize in the Chemical Sciences

May 7, 2013  

R. Graham Cooks

R. Graham Cooks 
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A Purdue University professor has won the 2013 Dreyfus Prize in Chemical Sciences, this year awarded in the field of chemical instrumentation.

R. Graham Cooks, the Henry Bohn Hass Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, won the biennial international prize in recognition of his innovations in the field of mass spectrometry and analytical chemistry.

"Graham Cooks has invented technology for quick chemical analysis that has applications ranging from medicine to food safety to national security," said Purdue President Mitch Daniels. "His work has led to more than 40 patents and four companies, as well as the establishment of Purdue's internationally recognized Center for Analytical Instrumentation Development. Advances made in his laboratory have not only shaped his field of science, but also created tools to keep us safer and to make medical tests easier and treatments more precise. It is a testament to Dr. Cooks' exceptional work that he is recognized with the prestigious Dreyfus Prize."

The international prize, given biennially by the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, consists of $250,000, a citation and a medal. A presentation ceremony, featuring a lecture by Cooks, will be held at Purdue in the fall.

"Chemical instrumentation has shaped human life in a myriad of positive ways," said Henry C. Walter, president of the Dreyfus Foundation. "Graham Cooks is a consummate innovator, and it is a great pleasure to recognize him with the third Dreyfus Prize."

Cooks is a pioneer in the field of mass spectrometry, which identifies the contents of a sample by measuring the mass of its ions, or electrically charged molecules. Early in his career Cooks revolutionized the field through the development of tandem mass spectrometry, which allowed for the quantification of the molecules present as well as their identification. He later developed ambient ionization techniques that paved the way for faster, more portable mass spectrometry devices. The techniques eliminated the need for samples to be chemically manipulated and contained in a vacuum chamber for analysis and allowed testing to be done in the air or directly on a surface in its natural environment. Cooks' and his collaborator, Purdue associate professor of biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering Zheng Ouyang, then miniaturized the once sedan-sized mass spectrometer to a shoebox-sized device ready to leave the laboratory. The mini mass spectrometers have been likened to Star Trek's tricorder device, which can instantly identify the molecules present on a surface or in the air.

Cooks and his team have fine-tuned the tools for use in molecular imaging for cancer diagnostics and surgery; therapeutic drug monitoring; testing for biomarkers in urine; and the identification of food-borne pathogens, bacteria, pesticides and explosives residues.

"Mass spectrometry has had an extraordinary impact on modern science, and Graham Cooks has changed the field in many important ways," said Richard N. Zare, the Marguerite Blake Wilbur Professor in Natural Science at Stanford University and a Dreyfus Foundation board member. "He has developed critical new experimental instruments and methods and applied them to solve significant problems."

Cooks earned his bachelor's degree and doctorate from the University of Natal, South Africa, and a doctorate from Cambridge University. He has been at Purdue since 1971. Cooks' many honors include American Chemical Society awards in Chemical Instrumentation, Mass Spectrometry, Analytical Chemistry and the F.A Cotton Award. He has been recognized internationally with both the Robert Boyle Medal and the Centennial Prize of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Cooks is the author of more than 900 scientific papers and has directed the doctoral research of more than 100 graduate students, many of whom hold positions in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.

He is associated with several Purdue research centers, including Bindley Bioscience Center, the Purdue Center for Cancer Research and the Center for Analytical Instrumentation Development.

The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, based in New York, is a leading non-profit organization devoted to the advancement of the chemical sciences. It was established in 1946 by chemist, inventor and businessman Camille Dreyfus, who directed that the foundation's purpose be "to advance the science of chemistry, chemical engineering and related sciences as a means of improving human relations and circumstances." In broad terms, foundation programs advance young faculty of early accomplishment, develop leadership in environmental chemistry, and enhance chemistry education and public interest in chemistry.

The inaugural Dreyfus Prize was awarded to George Whitesides of Harvard University in the field of materials chemistry 2009. The 2011 Dreyfus Prize was awarded to Tobin Marks of Northwestern University in the field of catalysis. 

Writer: Elizabeth K. Gardner, 765-494-2081, ekgardner@purdue.edu 

Sources: R. Graham Cooks, 765-494-5263, cooks@purdue.edu

Mitch Daniels, president@purdue.edu 

Related websites:

The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation release

The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation


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Related videos:

Cooks and Ouyang discuss the mini mass spectrometer and its potential applications: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_videos.jsp?cntn_id=106774&media_id=58204&org=NSF 

Portable mass spectrometer detects contaminants on food: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o88FMyVvdMU&feature=player_embedded

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