Skip to main content

Two UC San Diego Chemists Named Finalists for the World’s Top Ph.D. Prize

July 22, 2020 | By Cynthia Dillon

The world’s most prestigious award for graduate students in the chemical sciences, the Reaxys Ph.D. Prize, recognizes accomplished young scientists for their innovative and rigorous research. UC San Diego’s Ahanjit Bhattacharya and Johannes Karges are among this year’s 45 finalists for the prize—a global competition open to any individual who is earning or has recently completed a Ph.D. in any discipline of chemistry or related field of science.

Ahanjit Bhattacharya

Bhattacharya, is a postdoctoral scholar in Professor Neal Devaraj’s research group at UC San Diego. He received his Ph.D. from the same lab in 2020.

Ahanjit BhattacharyaAhanjit Bhattacharya

“Ahanjit’s major accomplishments are the development of novel lipid compartments as programmable synthetic cells and organelles, and the development of minimal biochemical strategies for synthesis of membrane-forming lipids. He shows tremendous commitment to and enthusiasm for moving synthetic cell science forward,” said Devaraj.

According to Bhattacharya, his deep passion for questions related to the origins of life sprang up even before he went to college, where he completed an Integrated Masters in Chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, before moving to the U.S. His research interests include artificial cells, origins of life, lipid materials and bioconjugate chemistry.

“It was wonderful to work in the area of artificial cells under a dynamic scientific leader like Professor Neal Devaraj, whose able guidance helped me follow my passion in the best possible way,” said Bhattacharya. “I feel deeply honored to be recognized as one of the finalists of the Reaxys PhD Prize 2020, and I will do my best in the future.”

Bhattacharya plans to continue working to understand the basic design plans of living cells by designing artificial cellular compartments using various lipids as building blocks as a university faculty member.

“In the long term, I aim to understand the impact of lipid structure on physiological functions of cells. I also have a deep passion towards undergraduate chemistry teaching, which I would like to carry on alongside research,” said Bhattacharya.

Johannes Karges

Karges is one of 13 chemists named as a prize finalist from Europe and the only one from France. He joined the Cohen Research Group at UC San Diego at the beginning of this year to undertake postdoctoral studies in bioinorganic chemistry.

Johannes KargesJohannes Karges

“Johannes came to my lab with the highest recommendation from his Ph.D. advisor. It is obvious to me why—he shows great enthusiasm, creativity and passion for scientific research,” said Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Seth Cohen. “I am really happy that he has been recognized with this tremendous honor and feel very fortunate to have him as part of our team.”

The focus of Karges’ Ph.D. thesis was the development of novel metal complexes as photosensitizers for photodynamic therapy to treat challenging cancer tumors and their selective delivery to the cancerous tissue. For this multidisciplinary work, he performed studies at Chimie ParisTech/Paris Sciences et Lettres University (France) and at Sun Yat-Sen University (China).

“I am very honored and humbled to be selected as a finalist for the Reaxys Ph.D. Prize,” said Karges. “Many thanks go to everyone I had the pleasure to work with.”

The work of candidates for the prize is judged by an international committee for excellence in science with focus on the innovation, impact and importance to the world. The committee also looks for other qualities of outstanding researchers: clarity of thought, scientific rigor and tractability, and originality.

All 45 finalists will receive lifelong membership in the Reaxys Prize Club, and they will be invited to the virtual Reaxys Ph.D. Prize Symposium 2020. The free online event will run from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. Three winners will be chosen and announced on the last day of the symposium.