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Carnegie Mellon University chemist Catalina Achim receives prestigious NSF CAREER award

Carnegie Mellon University

PITTSBURGH--Carnegie Mellon University chemist Catalina Achim has received the National Science Foundation's most prestigious award for new faculty members, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award. The five-year, $510,000 grant recognizes and supports the early career-development activities of teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century, according to the National Science Foundation.

Achim, an assistant professor of chemistry at the Mellon College of Science, received the award in support of her research on incorporating metal ions into peptide nucleic acid (PNA), a synthetic analog of DNA. The grant also will support her curriculum development activities, including the creation of an interdisciplinary course that will bridge inorganic chemistry and art.

Achim was the first scientist to report the construction of novel structures based on PNAs and containing metal ions. These structures potentially could be used as molecular electronic devices such as molecular wires and diodes. They would be thousands of times smaller than current devices.

Like DNA, PNA takes the shape of a double helix with base pairs forming the core of the molecule. Achim developed a way to replace the core of base pairs inside PNA with different chemical groups that bind to specific metals. By controlling the composition and size of these PNA-metal structures, Achim can investigate how metal ions affect magnetic and electron-transfer properties that would influence their use in nanodevices.

"This grant will allow us to expand our research on using PNA as a scaffold for metal ions and to delineate the factors that control the formation and stability of such metal-containing structures," said Achim.

CAREER awardees are selected on the basis of creative, career-development plans that effectively integrate research and education within the context of their institution's mission.


The Mellon College of Science at Carnegie Mellon University maintains innovative research and educational programs in biological sciences, chemistry, physics, mathematics and several interdisciplinary areas. For more information, visit

For more information, please contact Amy Pavlak at 412-268-8619 or

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