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Plastics Expert Wins Lemelson-MIT Award

Joseph DeSimone, a 44-year-old professor, has won this year's $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize for his expertise in chemistry that led to numerous advances and inventions.

BOSTON (AP) -- Joseph DeSimone's expertise in chemistry has yielded advances in environmentally sensitive plastics manufacturing, medical devices for blocked coronary arteries and minuscule engineered particles that may someday help diagnose and treat disease.

For those achievements, the 44-year-old professor has won this year's $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, to be announced Wednesday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"The breadth of his inventions, and his ability to leverage his expertise across all these disciplines is really amazing," said Joshua Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT program.

DeSimone grew up in suburban Philadelphia, where his interest in chemistry blossomed in part because of a chemistry set his younger sister received as a gift.

"Maybe it was just jealousy in wanting to have something she had that made me move in that direction," DeSimone, who has appointments as a professor both at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at North Carolina State University, said in a phone interview.

His interest in "green" chemistry and the search for environmentally friendly ways to make plastics led him to develop a process to reduce pollutants left over from manufacturing, substituting carbon dioxide for an acid that's normally used.

A $40 million DuPont Co. plant in Fayetteville, N.C., that went online in 2002 uses the technique.

DeSimone also teamed with Duke University cardiologist Richard Stack to craft a plastic alternative to the metal stents implanted in millions of people worldwide to hold arteries open. Research shows newer metal stents can slightly increase the risk of blood clots.

DeSimone also has waded into nanotechnology, creating minuscule engineered particles that scientists hope can help diagnose and treat conditions such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis and cancer.

DeSimone said he plans to use the prize money to support additional scientific ventures. Prolific inventor Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife, Dorothy, founded the nonprofit Lemelson-MIT Program in 1994.

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