At the University of Colorado, Cech and his research group discovered that the genetic material RNA could act as a biocatalyst, leading to Colorado’s first Nobel Prize (1989). He taught freshman Chemistry to more than 2,000 students over the years, and Cech founded one of the first RNA biotech companies, Ribozyme Pharmaceuticals, Inc., in Boulder. In 2000, he moved to Washington, D.C., as president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In 2009, he returned to CU Boulder and became the founding director of the BioFrontiers Institute. His awards include the National Medal of Science (1995) and election to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine.