Cellular Decision Making in Cancer Theme Leader Taekjip Ha has been awarded the 2011 Ho-Am Prize in Science by the Ho-Am Foundation in Korea. The Prize was established by Kun-hee Lee, chairman of Samsung, in 1990 to honor the vision of "Ho-Am" Byung-Chull Lee, the founder of Samsung, and to carry forward his commitment to promote activities and people that contribute to the public well-being. The Ho-Am Prizes are widely regarded as the Korean equivalent of the Nobel Prizes.
Ha, who is a Professor of Physics and a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator, was recognized for his pioneering application of fluorescence resonance energy transfer techniques to reveal the behavior and physical characteristics of single biomolecules. By combining sophisticated nanoscale imaging methods with state-of-the-art manipulation techniques, Ha and his group are able to control and visualize the behavior of single biomolecules. They have observed helicases unzip DNA, enzymes repair and recombine DNA, and ribozymes fold and unfoldone molecule at a time.In his most recent work, Ha has used single-molecule measurements to elucidate protein-DNA interactions and enzyme dynamics. He has developed novel optical techniques, fluid-handling systems, and surface preparations, as well as novel hybrid microscopes that combine spectroscopy, microscopy, and optical and magnetic trapping capabilities.
Ha has established a very large and successful research group at Illinois, where he has aggressively pursued collaborations both within Physics and across the campus. In addition to Physics, Ha holds appointments as a professor in the Center for Biophysics and Computational Biology and the IGB. He is an affiliate of the Beckman Institute, the Department of Medical Biochemistry, the College of Medicine, and the Department of Chemistry at Illinois.
In 2008, with Klaus Schulten, Ha led the team that obtained National Science Foundation funding for a new “Physics Frontiers Center” at the University of Illinois. The Center for the Physics of Living Cells (CPLC), of which Ha is co-director, is one of only nine such NSF centers in the United States, and one of only two devoted to biological physics.
Ha received the Bárány Award of the Biophysical Society (2007), an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship (2003), a Cottrell Scholar Award (Research Corporation, 2003), the Young Fluorescence Investigator Award of the Biophysical Society (2002), and a Searle Scholar Award (2001). He was named a University Scholar at the University of Illinois in 2009. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society.