Ha Awarded 2011 Ho-Am Prize in Science

Celia Elliott

UPDATE 6/03/2011—At a gala celebration in Seoul yesterday, Professor of Physics and Howard Hughes Medical Investigator Taekjip Ha was presented the 2011 Ho-Am Prize in Science. In attendance were the current prime minister of South Korea, Hwang-sik Kim and chairman of Samsung, Kun-hee Lee. The other laureates were Thomas H. Lee, Stanford University (Engineering Prize), Augustine M.K. Choi, Harvard Medical School (Medicine), Kyung Wha Chung, violinist (The Arts), and the Korea Legal Aid Center for Family Relations (Community Service).  

4/08/2011—Professor of Physics and Howard Hughes Medical Investigator Taekjip Ha has been awarded the 2011 Ho-Am Prize in Science by the Ho-Am Foundation of Korea. The Prize was established by Kun-hee Lee, chairman of Samsung, in 1990 to honor the vision of "Ho-Am" Byung-Chull Lee, the founder of Samsung, and to carry forward his commitment to promote activities and people that contribute to the public well-being. The Ho-Am Prizes are widely regarded as the Korean equivalent of the Nobel Prizes.

Ha was recognized for his pioneering application of fluorescence resonance energy transfer techniques to reveal the behavior and physical characteristics of single biomolecules. By combining sophisticated nanoscale imaging methods with state-of-the-art molecule manipulation techniques, Ha and his group are able to control and visualize the movements of single biomolecules. They have observed helicases unzip DNA, enzymes repair and recombine DNA, and ribozymes fold and unfold—one molecule at a time.

In his most recent work, Ha has used single-molecule measurements to elucidate protein-DNA interactions and enzyme dynamics. He has developed novel optical techniques, fluid-handling systems, and surface preparations, as well as novel hybrid microscopes that combine spectroscopy, microscopy, and optical and magnetic trapping techniques.

Ha has established a very large and successful research group at Illinois, where he has aggressively pursued collaborations both within Physics and across the campus. In addition to Physics, Ha holds appointments as professor in the Center for Biophysics and Computational Biology and as a faculty member of the precision proteomics research theme in the Institute for Genomic Biology. He is an affiliate of the Beckman Institute, the Department of Medical Biochemistry, College of Medicine, and the Department of Chemistry at Illinois.

In 2008, with Klaus Schulten, Ha led the team that obtained National Science Foundation funding for a new “Physics Frontiers Centers” at the University of Illinois. The Center for the Physics of Living Cells (CPLC), of which Ha is co-director, is one of only nine such NSF centers in the United States, and one of only two devoted to biological physics.

Ha has received the Bárány Award of the Biophysical Society (2007), an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship (2003), a Cottrell Scholar Award (Research Corporation, 2003), the Young Fluorescence Investigator Award of the Biophysical Society (2002), and a Searle Scholar Award (2001). He was named a University Scholar at the University of Illinois in 2009. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society.

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