Dirk Trauner was born and raised in Linz, Austria, where he studied biology and chemistry at the University of Vienna, and received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from the Free University, Berlin. He then pursued graduate studies in chemistry under the direction of Prof. Johann Mulzer, with whom he moved to the University of Frankfurt and then back to Vienna where he obtained his Ph.D. Following a glorious stint in the Austrian Army, he became a postdoctoral fellow with Prof. Samuel J. Danishefsky at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. After two great years in New York City, Dr. Trauner joined the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, where he rose through the ranks to become an Associate Professor of chemistry (with tenure) and a member of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In 2008, he moved to the University of Munich as a Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Genetics. In the Spring of 2017 he returned to the United States as the Janice Cutler Chair in Chemistry at New York University. In July of 2022, he moved to the University of Pennsylvania to serve as the Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor.
The broad objective of Prof. Trauner’s research is to demonstrate the awesome power of chemical synthesis with challenging target molecules and to use it toward the establishment of synthetic biological pathways. He is well known for his pioneering contributions to Optogenetics and Photopharmacology, using synthetic photoswitches to confer light-sensitivity to a broad range of targets. The chemical tools he developed are particularly useful in neuroscience and cell biology but also hold promise as precision therapeutics. Despite his extensive forays into biology and physiology Dr. Trauner remains an organic chemist at heart, as evidenced by the synthesis (and anticipation) of more than one hundred twenty natural products.
Dirk Trauner has been awarded the 2021 ACS Cope Scholar Award, the 2016 Emil Fischer Medal, and the 2016 Otto Bayer Award. He is a Member of the German National Academy of Sciences, Leopoldina, a Corresponding Member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Dirk is also the recipient of the Kitasato Medal, the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, an ERC Advanced Grant, and the Austrian Chemical Society Award for the best thesis in 1997. He sits on the editorial board of Organic Syntheses, the editorial advisory board of ACS Central Science, ACS Chemical Neuroscience, Cell Chemical Biology, and Chem. His students have taken positions at many leading pharmaceutical companies and universities.
In his spare time, Dirk laments the fact that he did not become a great architect.