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David Christianson, PhD
Joseph W. Martin, Jr. Distinguished Alumni Award

When David Christianson took his seat in Clint Johnson's sophomore chemistry class in September of 1976, he already had a sense that an inner passion was about to be sparked. One year later, under the tutelage of Dr. Robert Faxon, that passion in the field of chemistry took full flame and a life's path was set.

His journey down that path, while directly linked to North Attleboro High School, started long before he entered the building as a student. David's father, Ronald, Sr., taught music at the high school, and there were times David would visit him at NAHS after school. During many of those visits, David would wander down to Mr. Johnson's labs, where he was given a chance to conduct elementary experiments. On some occasions David even found himself being sent home with projects to work on in a lab he had set up for himself in the basement of the family home.

Perhaps it was kismet that David found himself in Clint Johnson's chemistry class in 10th grade. The following year he moved on to Advanced Chemistry with Dr. Faxon, and from there, he says, "I was hooked for life."

In reflecting on his research accomplishments, it is clear that his education at NAHS set a solid foundation for undergraduate and graduate studies. After graduation, Christianson enrolled at Harvard University, where he received his A.B. (1983), A.M. (1985), and Ph.D. (1987) degrees in Chemistry. He later engaged in research activities at Penn and Cambridge.

Those studies and research have lead David Christianson, PhD to the top of his field. Considered one of the world's most accomplished educators and researchers in his field, he is the Roy and Diana Vagelos Professor in Chemistry and Chemical Biology at the University of Pennsylvania, where since 1988 his research interests have focused on the structure, mechanism, and inhibition of metal-requiring enzymes. He has published more than 150 papers in this area.

David has received numerous awards in recognition of his research accomplishments, including the Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship (1992), the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award (1993), the Pfizer Award in Enzyme Chemistry from the American Chemical Society (1999), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2006), the Underwood Fellowship from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (UK) (2006), and a Senior Investigator Award from the Sandler Program for Asthma Research in San Francisco (2006). In addition to his appointment at Penn, Dr. Christianson is an Adjunct Professor at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, and he has also been a Fellow in the Natural Sciences at Sidney Sussex College of the University of Cambridge.

Still, with all that he has accomplished as a world-class educator and researcher, he, like so many Joseph W. Martin, Jr. Distinguished Alumni Award winners, has maintained his perspective on what is truly most important, his family.

David and his wife, Anastasia, are parents of two children: Karen and Nicolas, both of whom display a characteristic that runs deep in the Christianson lineage: a natural musical talent. Karen is an organ recitalist and composer who by age 12 had already performed extensively in the US, and Nicolas is a budding 'cello virtuoso and studies with one of the 'cellists in the Philadelphia Orchestra.