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From 1986–1991 Trauner studied Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Vienna. From 1992–1995 he studied Chemistry at the Free University of Berlin and completed his Diploma under Johann Mulzer, whom he followed to Frankfurt and subsequently Vienna as an Assistant. In 1997 he completed his PhD under Mulzer at the University of Vienna with summa cum laude. From 1998–2000 he was a postdoc under Samuel J. Danishefsky at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. In 2000 he moved to the University of California, Berkeley, where from 2000–2006 he was Assistant Professor and from 2006–2010 Associate Professor, with additional affiliation to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory from 2005–2008. From 2008-2017 he was Professor for Chemical Biology and Genetics at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. He currently resides as Professor of Chemistry and Adjunct Professor of Neuroscience at New York University.
Trauner is known for his work on the synthesis of natural products and in photopharmacology. His view is that many biologically active substances even of low molecular weight have not yet been discovered, and he has directed his research group to perform the total synthesis of such compounds. He is a pioneer in the area of photopharmacology, the control over the activity of biologically active substances using light, with potential applications in cancer therapy and in vision restoration.
- 2004 Amgen Young Investigator Award
- 2005 Novartis Young Investigator Award
- 2008 Roche Excellence in Chemistry Award
- 2013 Kitasato Microbial Chemistry Medal
- 2016 Emil Fischer Medal
- 2016 Otto Bayer Prize 
- 2017 Member, Leopoldina - German National Academy of Sciences
- "Germany : 2016 Otto Bayer Award Goes to Professor Dr. Dirk Trauner". Mena Report. 26 April 2016. – via HighBeam (subscription required)
- "Otto Bayer Awards". Bayer. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
- "List of Members". www.leopoldina.org. Retrieved 2018-02-06.
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