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Dr. Aziz Sancar was awarded a key to the town of Chapel Hill

Dr. Aziz Sancar (left), who won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry earlier this year,  is presented a key to the city at Chapel Hill Town Hall on Monday night.

Dr. Aziz Sancar (left), who won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry earlier this year, is presented a key to the city at Chapel Hill Town Hall on Monday night.

Colleagues and admirers of the Nobel Laureate came to Chapel Hill’s Town Hall Monday to watch. Sancar accepted the key to the city from the mayor and the town council.

Sancar grew up on a farm in southeastern Turkey as one of eight children, where he said his father instilled in him a strong work ethic. After graduating Summa Cum Laude at Istanbul University’s medical school, he received his doctorate from the University of Texas at Dallas.

The 2015 Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to Sancar and two other scientists for their mechanistic studies of DNA repair. Sancar successfully mapped nucleotide excision repair, a DNA mechanism which repairs daily UV damage to human skin cells.

His research has important implications for cancer research, because people born with a deficit of this mechanism have problems repairing the damage caused by sunlight and other mutagenic substances.

In awarding him the key to the city, the Chapel Hill Town Council said the town would honor and praise Sancar for his achievements.

In addition to his important contributions in science, he and his wife also founded the Aziz and Gwen Sancar Foundation, a program which connects Turkish and American scholars through education.

“The Turks who come here know something about the United States, but most Americans don’t know much about Turkey,” Sancar said. “And I think it’s important in these dangerous times that we live in.”

Kleinschmidt said recipients of the key to the town achieve commitment to making the world a better place.

“I made a special note to myself early on ­— that I would only confer the key to the town on those kinds of extraordinary achievements,” Kleinschmidt said.

In his plans for the future, Sancar said he will continue exactly the way he has in his 40 years of research.

“It is recognition of our 40 years of work on DNA repair field, and an acknowledgment of our contribution to science,” Sancar said in response to receiving the award. “It is a great honor. Chapel Hill is home, and therefore it means a lot to me.”

Yanyan Yang, a post-doctoral research associate at UNC under Dr. Sancar, said she was very happy and proud of him.

“He is a very good professor and mentor,” Yang said. “We talk about ideas, and meet weekly to talk about research. He is very nice, and I feel proud of my professor because he is a real scientist.”

Chris Selby has worked for 28 years in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics in the School of Medicine with Sancar.

“He works very hard and he studies the literature,” Selby said. “That’s what scientists need to do to be successful, so he’s a role model. He’s someone who compels others to try and be good scientists, as he is.”


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