The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation has announced that Xiaowei Zhuang, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and David B. Arnold Jr. Professor of Science, Harvard University, is the recipient of the 2023 Dreyfus Prize in the Chemical Sciences. The international biennial Prize, which includes a $250,000 award, is conferred this year in Imaging in the Chemical Sciences. A public award ceremony is planned to be held at Harvard later this year.

Zhuang receives this top honor for her pivotal contributions to Imaging in the Chemical Sciences. She is recognized for pioneering work to develop groundbreaking super-resolution imaging and genome-scale imaging methods and utilizing those methods to gain important new insights about biological molecules and systems. These methods and insights have had a widespread impact in the fields of chemistry, biology, neuroscience, and medicine.

H. Scott Walter, President of the Dreyfus Foundation, remarked, “The Dreyfus Foundation is proud to recognize the numerous accomplishments of Xiaowei Zhuang in the field of imaging in the chemical sciences with the Foundation’s highest honor – the Dreyfus Prize in the Chemical Sciences.”

Headshot of Dreyfus Prize Winner Dr. Zhuang

A groundbreaking leader in the field of super-resolution microscopy, Zhuang invented STORM (stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy), one of the earliest and most widely used super-resolution imaging methods. Overcoming the historical limitation of imaging resolution due to light diffraction, she creatively employed photoswitchable dyes and single-molecule imaging to increase the resolution of light microscopy to more than 10-times better than the diffraction limit. This methodology has been a key tool in advancing the understanding of molecular structures in cells, with her original 2006 paper alone garnering more than 8,000 scientific citations.

More recently, Zhuang invented MERFISH (multiplexed error-robust fluorescence in situ hybridization), a powerful method that took imaging to the genome scale. The technique uses error-robust barcoding, combinatorial labeling, and sequential imaging to allow for the determination of the precise copy number and spatial distribution of thousands of RNA species in individual cells, enabling single-cell transcriptome imaging. Zhuang further extended MERFISH to enable 3D-genome imaging and epigenome imaging. MERFISH transformed the studies of gene regulation in cells and the molecular and cellular architecture of biological tissues.

Zhuang has also actively employed these new methodologies to derive new insights into areas such as the cell atlas of the brain, molecular structures in neurons, and 3D organization of the genome.

“Xiaowei Zhuang’s numerous contributions to the field of imaging, most notably her invention of the STORM and MERFISH methods, have had a widespread impact on the scientific enterprise in fields from chemistry to neuroscience,” stated Matthew Tirrell, Chair of the Dreyfus Foundation Scientific Affairs Committee and Dean of the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at The University of Chicago.

In addition to her roles as Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and the David B. Arnold Professor of Science at Harvard University, Zhuang is the Director of the Center for Advanced Imaging at Harvard. She is a co-founder of the company Vizgen, which commercialized the MERFISH technology, and is on the editorial board for both Science and Cell.

Zhuang is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, as well as a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the European Molecular Biology Organization. She is also a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. Her many awards and honors include the Henrich Wieland Prize, J. Allyn Taylor International Prize in Medicine, the Foundation of NIH Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences, the Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science, the Pearl Meister Greengard Prize, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the Heineken Prize for Biochemistry and Biophysics, the National Academy of Sciences Award for Scientific discovery, and the MacArthur Fellowship.

Zhuang stated, “I am deeply honored to receive the 2023 Dreyfus Prize in the Chemical Sciences. I would like to thank the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation for being a leading supporter of the chemical sciences community for over 75 years.”

The Dreyfus Prize in the Chemical Sciences, initiated in 2009, is conferred in a specific area of chemistry each cycle. It is the highest honor of the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation.