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News from the National Academies

Jan. 7, 2013


Academy Honors 18 for Major Contributions to Science


WASHINGTON — The National Academy of Sciences will honor 18 individuals with awards in recognition of their outstanding scientific achievements in a wide range of fields spanning the physical, biological, and social sciences. The recipients for 2013 are:


Theodore Betley, Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, is the recipient of the 2013 NAS Award for Initiatives in Research, given this year in the field of catalysis. Betley is being honored for his development and mechanistic elucidation of remarkable iron catalysts for carbon-hydrogen bond functionalization, which may lead to improvements in the ability to convert cheap and abundant chemical feedstocks into high-value chemicals with low energy expenditure. Supported by Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, the award comes with a $15,000 prize and recognizes innovative young scientists and encourages research likely to lead toward new capabilities for human benefit.


Sue Biggins, full member at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, is the recipient of the NAS Award in Molecular Biology. Biggins is recognized for her isolation and in vitro characterization of a functional kinetochore complex, and for the use of that system to explore kinetochore function. Sponsored by Pfizer Inc., the award consists of a $25,000 prize to recognize a recent notable discovery by a young scientist.


William J. Borucki, space scientist at the NASA Ames Research Laboratory and Science Principal Investigator for the Kepler Mission, is the recipient of the Henry Draper Medal. Borucki is honored for his founding concept and visionary leadership of Kepler, which is using transit photometry to determine the frequency and kinds of planets around other stars. Kepler has uncovered myriad new worlds, with properties that are unforeseen and highly surprising. The Henry Draper Medal is awarded approximately every four years for an outstanding recently published contribution to astrophysical research and carries with it an award of $15,000.


Kenneth Catania, Stevenson Professor of Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University, is the recipient of the Pradel Research Award. Catania is a pioneering neuroethologist who has carried out highly imaginative investigations of the neural basis of sensory behavior in model organisms. His comparative studies of mammals that possess specialized sensory capacities have led to discoveries of fundamental principles of behavior, sensory processing, and brain organization, and have resulted in new insights about the evolution of the nervous system. The Pradel Research Award is presented with $50,000 to support the recipient's research.


Karl Deisseroth, D.H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, is the recipient of the Richard Lounsbery Award. Deisseroth is honored for pioneering the technology called optogenetics in which insertion of a single bacterial protein into a neuron allows exquisite control of the neuron with light. Deisseroth’s technology enables precise control of neural activity at the timescale required for studying awake and moving animals. His approach has been adopted by thousands of scientists around the world. Deisseroth is now using optogenetics in landmark studies of human disease to understand how altered neural information processing underlies behavioral dysfunction in psychiatric disease, and to probe the therapeutic mechanism and best use of deep brain stimulation in Parkinson’s disease. Intended to stimulate research and to encourage reciprocal scientific exchanges between the United States and France, the Richard Lounsbery Award is given in alternate years to young American and French scientists in recognition of extraordinary scientific achievement in biology and medicine and is presented with a $50,000 prize.

Asif A. Ghazanfar, associate professor of neuroscience and psychology at Princeton University, and Lori L. Holt, professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, will receive Troland Research Awards. Ghazanfar is being recognized for advancing our understanding of the evolution, development, and neural basis for primate communication as a means to understand human communication. Holt is recognized for making fundamental contributions that advance our understanding of the basic cognitive processes involved in humans’ perception of spoken language. Two Troland Research Awards of $50,000 are given annually to recognize unusual achievement by young investigators and to further empirical research within the broad spectrum of experimental psychology.

Jeffrey I. Gordon, Dr. Robert J. Glaser Distinguished University Professor and director of the Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology at Washington University in St. Louis is the recipient of the Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology. Gordon is recognized for his pioneering interdisciplinary studies characterizing the human gut microbiome and for defining the genomic and metabolic foundations of its contributions to health and disease, in part through the use of innovative gnotobiotic animal models. Supported by the Foundation for Microbiology, this Award consists of a $5,000 prize in recognition of a major advance in the field of microbiology.


John T. Gosling, senior research associate in the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and retired laboratory fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory, will receive the Arctowski Medal. Gosling was selected because of a long series of insights into the generation of energetic solar events, especially distinguishing solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections, and how they impact the heliosphere and Earth. The medal is given every two years for studies in solar physics and solar terrestrial relations and and carries an award of $20,000, plus $60,000 to support research in solar physics and solar-terrestrial relations.


David M. Karl, professor of oceanography at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa, is the recipient of the Alexander Agassiz Medal. Karl is acknowledged for leadership in establishing multidisciplinary ocean-observing systems, for detection of decadal regime shifts in pelagic ecosystems, and for paradigm-shifting insights on biogeochemical cycles in the ocean. Established by a gift from Sir John Murray, the medal is presented every three years for original contributions in the science of oceanography and carries with it a prize of $15,000.


Bruce Kleiner, professor of mathematics at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University, and John Lott, professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, are joint recipients of the NAS Award for Scientific Reviewing — awarded this year in mathematics. Kleiner and Lott are being honored for their joint explication of Perelman's celebrated solution of the Poincaré Conjecture; the Kleiner/Lott presentation was instrumental in making the solution accessible to the mathematical community, and, as the first detailed scientific presentation, played a crucial role in the verification of the solution. Presented with a prize of $10,000, this award recognizes authors whose reviews have synthesized extensive and difficult material, rendering a significant service to science and influencing the course of scientific thought. The award is supported by Annual Reviews, the Institute for Scientific Information, and The Scientist in honor of J. Murray Luck.

Stuart H. Orkin, David G. Nathan Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School; investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Boston Children’s Hospital; and chairman, department of pediatric oncology at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, is the recipient of the Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal. Orkin is being honored for his discovery of the molecular basis of blood disorders and elucidation of regulatory mechanisms that govern the development of blood stem cells and blood cell lineages. Orkin’s work has defined genetic etiologies and elucidated new strategies to prevent and manage diseases of the blood system. The award, consisting of a medal and a prize of $25,000, recognizes his important contributions to the medical sciences.


J. William Schopf, Distinguished Professor of Paleobiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, is the recipient of the NAS Award in Early Earth and Life Sciences, presented this year with the Charles Doolittle Walcott Medal. Schopf is being honored for his studies of the microscopic fossils that represent the earliest forms of life on Earth and for his generous and inspirational leadership of large, collaborative research groups. These "Precambrian Paleobiology Research Groups" brought together scientists from multiple scientific disciplines and focused their efforts to yield new ideas and information. Their work has stimulated countless further studies of the earliest history of life on Earth. The Walcott Medal is presented every five years with a $10,000 prize and recognizes contributions to research on Cambrian or Precambrian life.


Solomon H. Snyder, professor of neuroscience, pharmacology, and psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is the recipient of the NAS Award in the Neurosciences. Snyder is being recognized for his groundbreaking work on opiate receptors, gaseous signaling in the nervous system, and numerous other contributions to our understanding of neuropharmacological processes. The award, presented every three years, consists of a prize of $25,000 and recognizes excellence in neuroscientific research.


Gabor A. Somorjai, University Professor and professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, and senior scientist in the Materials Science Division of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is the recipient of the NAS Award in Chemical Sciences. Somorjai is being honored for his groundbreaking experimental and conceptual contributions to the understanding of surface chemistry and catalysis at a microscopic and molecular level. The importance of understanding and controlling chemical processes on surfaces is of enormous importance to humanity, from producing fertilizers for food production to producing clean and renewable energy. Supported by the Merck Company Foundation, the award and $15,000 prize honors innovative research in the chemical sciences that contribute to a better understanding of the natural sciences and to the benefit of humanity.


Edward C. Taylor, A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Organic Chemistry Emeritus at Princeton University, is the recipient of the NAS Award for Chemistry in Service to Society. Taylor is being honored for contributions to heterocyclic chemistry that led to the development of the new-generation antifolate pemetrexed (AlimtaTM). Pemetrexed exhibits unprecedented activity against a variety of solid tumors and is now in use in more than 100 countries. It is approved for the treatment of mesothelioma and non-small cell lung cancer and is in multiple further clinical trials for a wide range of solid tumors. The award, established by E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., recognizes contributions to chemistry, either in fundamental science or its application, that clearly satisfy a societal need. The award comes with a $20,000 prize and is presented in alternate years to chemists working in industry and to those in academia, government, and nonprofit organizations.


King-Wai Yau, professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is the recipient of the Alexander Hollaender Award in Biophysics. Yau is the major contributor of innovative and fundamental biophysical experiments and analyses that have transformed our understanding of how the signals from light and odor are recorded and relayed to the brain. As well as detailing specific, often surprising, molecular pathways and mechanisms, this has included identifying the non-image visual pigment systems responsible for light-entrainment of the circadian rhythm and explaining the factors that limit the possible wavelength range of vision in vertebrates. The Alexander Hollaender Award is given every three years in recognition of outstanding contributions in biophysics.

The recipients will be honored in a ceremony on Sunday, April 28, during the Academy's 150th annual meeting.


The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and — with the National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council — provides science, technology, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations. The year 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the creation of the National Academy of Sciences.

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