Jacqueline K. Barton is the John G. Kirkwood and Arthur A. Noyes Professor in the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology.
Barton has pioneered the application of transition metal complexes to probe recognition and reactions of double helical DNA. She has designed chiral metal complexes that recognize nucleic acid sites with specificities rivaling DNA-binding proteins. These synthetic transition metal complexes have been useful in elucidating fundamental chemical principles that govern the recognition of nucleic acids, in developing luminescent and photochemical reagents as new diagnostic tools, and in laying a foundation for the design of novel chemotherapeutics. Barton has also carried out seminal studies to elucidate electron transfer chemistry mediated by the DNA double helix. She first showed that oxidative damage to DNA can arise from a distance through charge migration through the DNA duplex. She furthermore established that DNA charge transport chemistry is exquisitely sensitive to intervening perturbations in the DNA base stack, as with single base mismatches or lesions. This chemistry has since been applied in the development of DNA-based electrochemical sensors and explored in the context of long range signaling within the cell. She has focused on the role of DNA charge transport chemistry in DNA repair. Through this research, Barton has trained more than 100 graduate students and postdoctoral students, with about half in academic positions.
Barton has received numerous awards, some of which include the Alan T. Waterman Award of the National Science Foundation (1985), the ACS Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry (1987), the ACS Breslow Award in Biomimetic Chemistry (2003), and the American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal (2015) and the National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Science (2019). She is a recipient of a prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1991) and she has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991), the American Philosophical Society (2000), the National Academy of Sciences (2002) and the National Academy of Medicine (2012), along with an honorary fellowship in the Royal Society of Chemistry (2014). She has received ten honorary degrees including Yale University (2005) and Columbia University (2010). In October 2011, Barton received the 2010 National Medal of Science from President Obama. In 2015, she received the ACS Priestley Medal.
Barton was awarded the A.B. summa cum laude at Barnard College in 1974 and a Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry at Columbia University in 1978 in the laboratory of S. J. Lippard. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Bell Laboratories and Yale University with R. G. Shulman, she became an assistant professor at Hunter College, City University of New York. In 1983, she returned to Columbia University, becoming an associate professor of chemistry and biological sciences in 1985 and professor in 1986. In the fall of 1989, she joined the faculty at Caltech. From 1997 to 2016 she held the Arthur and Marion Hanisch Memorial Professorship. From 2009 to 2019 she served as the Norman Davidson Leadership Chair.