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News from the National Academies

Date:  Jan. 12, 2007

Contacts:  Maureen O'Leary, Director of Public Information

Paul Jackson, Assistant Internet Editor

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

 

Maxine F. Singer to Receive Public Welfare Medal

 

WASHINGTON -- The National Academy of Sciences has selected Maxine F. Singer, president emeritus of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, to receive the Public Welfare Medal, its most prestigious award.  The Public Welfare Medal is presented annually to honor extraordinary use of science for the public good.  Singer will receive the award for providing inspired and effective leadership in matters of science and its relationship to education and public policy.  "Dr. Singer represents the best aspects of scientific citizenship.  Today the Academy officially recognizes her dedication and accomplishments in public service," said Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

Singer is a pioneer in molecular biology and an accomplished spokesperson and leader in science policy who has dealt with many of today's key issues.  She has championed the cause of women and minorities in science, fostering equal access to education and career opportunities, and has worked tirelessly to improve science education.

 

As a leader on issues related to the use of genetic manipulation in research and its promise in curing disease, Singer was among the first to bring to public attention the issue of recombinant DNA's potential risks and quickly became a leader in the scientific community's important efforts to regulate itself.  She was a key organizer of and contributor to the pathbreaking 1975 Asilomar Conference.  Attended by 140 biologists, physicians, lawyers, and members of the press, the conference resulted in a report that established a framework for the conduct of research and the gradual removal of restrictions as understanding grew in future years.  Singer was one of five signers of the summary statement.

 

As chair of the National Academies' Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, Singer addressed significant issues involving graduate education, postdoctoral scholars, women in science, and scientific conduct.  Under her leadership, the committee's findings have had a major effect on science policy, producing influential reports such as Scientific and Medical Aspects of Human Reproductive Cloning and Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers.  The latter report quickly led to a long-overdue empowerment of postdoctoral fellows on university campuses and changes in federal policies.  "Dr. Singer's unflagging advocacy for improved science education and intelligent policy mark her as uniquely interested in the well-being of the next generation of scientists," said John Brauman, home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the selection committee for the award.

 

As president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington from 1988 to 2002, Singer strengthened the institution and, through innovative programs and initiatives, reinforced its position of pre-eminence among U.S. scientific organizations.  Highlights of her tenure include Project Magellan -- a cooperative effort with a number of university astronomy departments to build two world-class telescopes -- and the development of Carnegie's department of global ecology, its first new department in decades.

 

While at Carnegie, Singer's personal concern for the education of children in the nation's capital led her to establish the Carnegie Academy for Science Education (CASE) -- a program that works to increase K-12 teachers' knowledge of science and present new ways to bring science to their students.  In 1989 she introduced Carnegie's "First Light" project, where D.C. third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders -- and now middle school students -- attend an innovative Saturday science school.  Both programs continue to this day.  "Dr. Singer is a champion of quality science and mathematics education and of the essential role of partnerships between scientists and educators in helping to make this happen," said Shirley Malcom, director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Directorate for Education and Human Resources Programs and a previous recipient of the Public Welfare Medal.  "Dr. Singer has helped thousands of students and hundreds of teachers, and has left scores of schools better than she found them."

 

Maxine Singer was born in 1931 in New York City.  A product of the city's public schools, she received her bachelor's degree with high honors in chemistry from Swarthmore College in 1952 and her doctorate in biochemistry from Yale University in 1957.  From 1975 to 1990 she served as a fellow (trustee) of the Yale Corp.  Singer is the recipient of many honors, including the National Medal of Science in recognition of her "deep concern for the societal responsibility of the scientist."

 

The Public Welfare Medal will be presented to Singer in a ceremony on April 29 during the Academy's annual meeting in Washington, D.C.  Previous recipients of the Public Welfare Medal include Vannevar Bush and Philip Abelson -- both former Carnegie Institution presidents -- as well as Theodore Hesburgh, David Packard, C. Everett Koop, and Carl Sagan.  

 

The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter.

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