Columbians Ahead of Their Time
"What many people don't realize is how dynamic the structure of DNA is. The base pairs are always moving and vibrating, electrons are migrating, holes are opening up and closing through the center of the DNA."

Jacqueline Barton (1953– )
Barnard 1973, GSAS 1979
Faculty 1983-1989
Honorary Ph.D. 1992

By exploring connections between the chemical structures of metals and DNA, Jacqueline Barton has created endless possibilities for the recognition and treatment of illness. Trained as an inorganic chemist, Barton focuses on using transition metal complexes (which are transition metal ions bonded to synthetic or natural molecules) to explore the electrical properties of DNA. She has, for example, developed metal probes that can track how electrons move through DNA strands. By discovering how DNA can be damaged and how that damage can be reversed, Barton has been able to shed light on illnesses—like cancer— that begin with damaged DNA.

Barton's work has earned her numerous awards, including the Alan T. Waterman Award of the National Science Foundation (1985), which she was the first woman to receive; the American Chemical Society's Award in Pure Chemistry (1988); the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1991); and election to the National Academy of Sciences (2002). Dr. Anna Marie Pyle, a professor of biophysics at Yale, says of Barton: ''Jackie conveys to her students the importance of creativity and imagination in science. Women need to have somebody express confidence in their creative abilities, not just their ability to work harder."

Barton lives in California, where she and her husband, fellow chemist Dr. Peter Dervan, are both on the faculty of the California Institute of Technology. Born and raised in New York City, Barton both began and ended her chemistry classes at Columbia University. Her first chemistry class ever was at Barnard College, from which she graduated summa cum laude in 1974 with a major in chemistry. Five years later, she earned a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry at Columbia, where she worked in the labs of S. J. Lippard. After postdoctoral fellowships at Bell Laboratories and at Yale, Barton returned to New York as an assistant professor at Hunter College. She joined the Columbia faculty in 1983, becoming an associate professor in 1985 and a professor in 1986. "Columbia was a special place for me for a long time—Barnard, grad school, and as a faculty member,” she has said. “I'll always be from Columbia!"

The biotech company Barton founded

Columbia and the study of DNA


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