Abeles and Jencks Award for the Chemistry of Biological Processes

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To acknowledge and encourage outstanding contributions to the understanding of the chemistry of biological processes, with particular emphasis on structure, function, and mechanism. The Award is administered by the Division of Biological Chemistry (DBC) of the American Chemical Society (ACS).


The award consists of a $6,000 honorarium and a medal. The award is presented annually at the Fall ACS National Meeting. Travel expenses to attend the national meeting are provided.


The award was established in 2022 with the financial help of multiple donors. Members and friends of the DBC, many former Abeles/Jencks students/postdocs, came together to celebrate the legacies of Professors Robert H. Abeles and William P. Jencks by endowing this award in their name.


Any individual, except a current member of the DBC executive committee, can be nominated for the Abeles and Jencks Award. The nominator must be a member of the Division of Biological Chemistry of the American Chemical Society.


Nominations should emphasize the candidate’s research contributions and impact on the field of biological chemistry. The nomination letter (approximately 1000 words, recommended font size 12 pt), seconding letters (up to three, approximately 500 words each, recommended font size 12 pt), and the candidate’s CV or biosketch (4 pages maximum) should be submitted as a single PDF file via email to the Division Secretary (please name the PDF file with the candidate’s name, e.g.: NomineeName-AbelesandJencks.pdf).

Deadline:  The deadline for award nominations is August 1 of the year preceding the award year, with the next deadline, August 1, 2023for the 2024 award.


The award selection committee is chosen by members of the DBC executive committee, and will be composed of three members of the Biological Chemistry community of scientists, including former Repligen/Abeles&Jencks Award winners.


The ACS Biological Chemistry Division will manage the investment of funds contributed for this award. The fund is held in a separate account.


Robert H. Abeles (1926- 2000) and William P. Jencks (1927-2007) were pioneers at the interface of chemistry and biology and their ideas continue to influence the field that they created. Abeles’ imaginative and elegant experiments defined the mechanisms of enzymes in nearly every reaction class, perhaps most importantly the unprecedented radical initiation of B12 cofactors. He also made an enormous contribution to the rational design of enzyme inhibitors, coupling immense creativity with deep chemical insights to design the first transition-state analogue and numerous mechanism-based inactivators. Where Abeles outlined enzyme mechanisms in broad strokes, Jencks focused on the details of transition-state structure. His simple, rigorous kinetic experiments used small molecules to model enzymatic reactions. Jencks was particularly interested in the transition between stepwise and concerted reactions, formulating the “libido rule” to describe how pKa controls proton transfer and devising kinetic “clocks” to determine if discrete tetrahedral intermediates formed during nucleophilic addition reactions.

Images: Jencks 1973, Abeles 1975. Courtesy of the Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department, Brandeis University.

Jencks’ clarity of thought is preserved in his classic textbook Catalysis in Chemistry and Enzymology and the seminal review Binding Energy, Specificity, and Enzymic Catalysis: The Circe Effect, the latter of which describes how enzymes harvest intrinsic binding energy to promote catalysis. With their complementary styles and approaches, Abeles and Jencks made Brandeis University a Mecca of mechanistic enzymology, training two generations of students and postdocs, many of whom have established their own very distinguished careers. Those trainees, together with former colleagues and fans, initiated the funding drive to endow the Abeles and Jencks Award for Chemistry of Biological Processes. Formerly sponsored by Repligen, the award was established in 1986 to acknowledge outstanding contributions to the understanding of the chemistry of biological processes, with particular emphasis on structure, function, and mechanism. Both Abeles (1988) and Jencks (1996) are included among the distinguished awardees. This award is a fitting tribute to the Abeles and Jencks legacy.

*Prior to 2019, this award was generously sponsored by Repligen.

A list of past recipients is here.

Many Ways to Donate

You can donate to the award using PayPal or a credit card through the link below (note: the service fee will be covered by the division).

Alternatively, if you prefer to pay by check or other methods, please contact Christine Chow: cchow@wayne.edu