May 20, 2021
Professor Ellen Sletten
Professor Ellen Sletten has been chosen for the prestigious 2020-2021 McCoy Award, which recognizes the researcher in the department who has made the greatest contribution of the year to the science of chemistry and biochemistry.
 
Sletten and coworkers developed bright fluorophores for shortwave infrared emission, the region of the electromagnetic spectrum beyond where the eye can see. These new emitters allow researchers to image through skin and tissue, allowing for real-time non-invasive fluorescent imaging in mice. This work has the potential to lead to safe, low-cost optical diagnostics in clinical settings.
 
Each year, the Herbert Newby McCoy Award is given to the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry faculty member, postdoctoral researcher, or student who has made the greatest contribution of the year to the science of chemistry and biochemistry. This year the award comes with an $8,000 prize. The first recipient of the award in 1965 was Nobel Laureate Professor Donald Cram. The department will properly honor Sletten at a future Departmental Awards Ceremony.
 
In 2017, Sletten developed a number of novel chromophores which emit above 1000nm, a spectral region which allows for penetrative imaging through tissue (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2017, 56, 13126–13129). Small emissive molecules in this window are exceptionally rare, and the Sletten Group chromophore (Flav7), was by far the exemplar small-molecule emitter. Many groups have built on Sletten’s foundational contribution. This work has already 141 citations in less than four years, and represents one of the founding papers in the field of SWIR chromophore design. 
 
 
Sletten has greatly extended the chromophore family (developing 19 new fluorophores in the near and shortwave infrared regions), and has demonstrated that a judicious combination of excitation control and filters can allow for high-speed in vivo multi-channel imaging (see image above)The primary paper (Nature Chemistry 2020, 12, 1123-1130), spearheaded by Sletten’s first graduate student Dr. Emily Cosco (pictured left), now a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford, is a tour-de-force effort, combining synthesis, sophisticated physical organic methodology, chemical biology formulation, and full animal imaging, aided by her collaborator, Dr. Oliver Bruns (pictured above right) in Munich, Germany.This paper both demonstrates the utility of small molecule chromophores in this wavelength window, and opens the possibility for extension into clinical practice (e.g. histology and image-guided surgery). Not stopping there, she has extended the chromophore library to allow for 4-color imaging in mice (see movie below). (JACS 2021, 143, 18, 6836–6846).  
 
 
“Ellen and her group figured out how to synthesize molecules that emit infrared light of several wavelengths," said co-nominator Winstein Chair Professor Ken Houk. "They can then detect where these compounds go when injected in living animals. They can see the organs where these compounds go and detect abnormalities. It really has a lot of great possibilities, and is a remarkable demonstration of Ellen’s knowledge of synthetic chemistry, photochemistry, and biological transport. Ellen is a great organic chemist and chemical biologist!” 
 
“I am thrilled to nominate our colleague Ellen Sletten for the Herbert Newby McCoy Award,” said co-nominator Professor Justin Caram. “In the last year, Ellen has done an enormous amount to advance the science of fluorescent imaging in complex dense environments. Under her leadership, I believe UCLA will become a center for SWIR animal Imaging.”  
 
Sletten’s 2021 Nature Chemistry paper was featured in Phys.org and highlighted in the Daily Bruin.  
 
To learn more about Sletten’s research, visit her group’s website.
 
About the Herbert Newby McCoy Award
 
The Herbert Newby McCoy Award was established in 1964 by Mrs. Ethel Terry McCoy, also a chemist, in honor of her husband who was an American chemist who taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Utah and was the vice-president of Lindsay Light & Chemical Company. Each year the award is given to the researcher(s) in the department who made the greatest contribution of the year to the science of chemistry and biochemistry. The selection of the winner(s) is made by the full professors of the department and the Chancellor. Nobel Laureate Donald Cram was the recipient of the first McCoy Award in 1965.
 
2019-20 Ohyun Kwon
2018-19 Jose Rodriguez & Hosea Nelson
2017-18 Hosea Nelson, Elena Grintsevich
2016   Anastassia Alexandrova, Ankur Gholkar, Patrick Harran
2015   Anne Hong-Hermesdorf, Kendall Houk, Neil Garg 
2014   Jeffrey Zink
2013   Janette Kropat, Heather Maynard, Thi Nguyen
2012   Maher El-Kady, Jorge Torres
2011   Xiangfeng Duan, Neil Garg 
2010   Carla Koehler, Beth Marbois, Benjamin Schwartz
2009   Juli Feigon, Mike Jung, Kenneth Stabe, Shiho Tanaka, Todd Yeates
2008   Timothy Deming, Saeed Khan, Thomas Mason
2007   Richard Kaner, Max Kopelevich, Sarah Tolbert
2006   David Eisenberg, Rebecca Nelson, Michael Sawaya, Eric Scerri, Omar Yaghi
2005   Dmitri Kudryashov, Emil Reisler, Michael Sawaya, M. Jane Strouse, Todd Yeates
2004   Sabeeha Merchant
2003   Alex Evilevitch, William Gelbart, Charles Knobler, Laurence Lavelle
2002   Andrea Liu
2001   Fred Wudl
2000   J. Fraser Stoddart
1999   Miguel Garcia Garcia-Garibay, Yves Rubin
1998   James Bowie
1997   Rafael Levine
1996   Joan Valentine
1995   Robin Garrell, James Heath, David Myles, Todd Yeates
1994   Ken Houk, X. Zhang
1993   Emily Carter, Juli Feigon, M. Jane Strouse, H. Xie
1992   Peter Felker, Richard Kaner, Flint Smith
1991   Michael Jung, David Sigman
1990   Steven Clarke, François Diederich, R.L. Whetten, M. Anderson, B. Mattes
1989   Charles Knobler, R.S. Williams
1988   William Gelbart, Z. Xue
1987   Douglas Rees, M. Miller
1986   Charles West, F. Jensen
1985   Jeffrey Zink, T. Smith
1984   Malcom Nicol
1983   Orville Chapman, W.D. Harris
1982   Richard Dickerson, David Eisenberg
1981   Eric Heller
1980   Charles Knobler
1979   Charles Strouse
1978   John McTague
1977   Christopher Foote
1976   Paul Boyer
1975   Donald Cram
1974   Howard Reiss
1973   Verne Schumaker
1972   M. Fredrick Hawthorne
1971   Daniel Kivelson
1970   D.A. Harris, R.B. Gillespie
1969   M.A. El-Sayed
1968   Frank Anet
1967   Daniel Atkinson
1966   Saul Winstein
1965   Donald Cram
 
 
Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.