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Virginia Professor Wins Nobel Prize

October 9, 2002

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Virginia professor John Fenn said he was in a daze Wednesday after learning he had won the Nobel Prize for chemistry for his work developing methods of identifying and analyzing large biological molecules, such as proteins.

Fenn, of Virginia Commonwealth University, will share half of the $1 million prize with Koichi Tanaka of Japan. Kurt Wuethrich of Switzerland will get the other half.

``Can you imagine? This happens to so few people,″ Fenn, 85, told The Associated Press early Wednesday. ``So many other scientists dream about it. The odds are one in 100,000 or one in a million.″

Fenn and Tanaka produced their breakthroughs in the late 1980s, transforming an analysis technique called mass spectrometry, which lets scientists rapidly identify a substance through its mass. Mass spectrometry is used in tests for doping and illegal drugs, for example.

``What this does is provide a way in getting a peephole in structures of protein molecules and what happens to them in the body,″ Fenn said.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the prize, said the researchers’ work revolutionized the development of new medicines and showed promise in early diagnosis of some cancers.

Fenn previously was a professor emeritus at Yale University but left when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. He was attracted to Virginia Commonwealth University because the school furnished him with a lab, which he didn’t have at Yale as a professor emeritus.

``We are extremely fortunate to have him here,″ said Fred Hawkridge, chairman of the VCU chemistry department. ``He’s just an absolutely outstanding, generous individual.″

Fenn, who gave up riding his bicycle to work a couple of years ago and now takes the bus, said he was unsure how much longer he would continue his research.

``How much I accomplish now is questionable,″ he said. ``I go to the lab every day and work with the young people on a number of things. It keeps me from being underfoot at home.″

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On the Net:

Nobel site: http://www.nobel.se

Virginia Commonwealth University: http://www.vcu.edu/

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