Berkeley Oceanographer Is Second Woman To Receive NSF's Alan T. Waterman Award

Berkeley Oceanographer Is Second Woman To Receive NSF's Alan T. Waterman Award Foundation Honors Radiation Pathologist For Lifetime Of Environmental Research Biological oceanographer Deborah L. Penry, an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has become the 18th recipient of the National Science Foundation's Alan T. Waterman Award for outstanding research by a scientist under the age of 35. The award, which includes a $500,000, three-year research grant, was prese

Jun 14, 1993
Ron Kaufman

  • Berkeley Oceanographer Is Second Woman To Receive NSF's Alan T. Waterman Award
  • Foundation Honors Radiation Pathologist For Lifetime Of Environmental Research
  • Biological oceanographer Deborah L. Penry, an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has become the 18th recipient of the National Science Foundation's Alan T. Waterman Award for outstanding research by a scientist under the age of 35. The award, which includes a $500,000, three-year research grant, was presented to Penry on May 12 at the National Science Board's annual dinner.

    Penry, now 36, was honored for her investigations of how marine animals feed and process food. She has applied the principles of chemical reactor theory and design to explain how the digestive processes of marine life fit into the ocean ecosystem (D.L. Penry, P.A. Jumars, "Modeling animal guts as chemical reactors," American Naturalist, 129: 69-96, 1987).

    According to Penry's theory, phytoplankton produce organic matter. Animals eat those phytoplankton and then excrete fecal waste. The waste is either consumed by other planktonic animals or settles on the ocean floor to be degraded or buried in sediment. "The common step in all of this," she says, "is that the material goes through some animal's gut.

    "Because every animal has a different digestive strategy, I wanted a framework where I could generalize the process," she says. "So I used chemical reactor theory. That is, that animal guts are like chemical reactors because, essentially, you put material in, chemical reactions oc-cur, and material comes out again."

    The Waterman award has been presented annually since 1976. Penry is only the second woman to win it; the first was Columbia University biochemist Jacqueline K. Barton in 1985.

    Penry says the scarcity of women among the award winners is "sort of typical" of the general way women are represented in science. "But I do think that women of my generation have it a whole lot better than women of 15 or 20 years ago, when it was much more difficult to be taken seriously in science. Back then, women had to make a lot more sacrifices to pursue a career in science, and they would often have to accept lesser positions than a man with the same qualifications.

    "I can't say I've had any problems in science being a woman

    Penry received her B.S. in biology from the University of Delaware in 1979 and her Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of Washington in Seattle in 1988.

    Arthur Canfield Upton a lifelong researcher in radiation pathology, has been named the first recipient of the Lovelace Medical Foundation's Award for Excellence in Environmental Health Research. Based in Albuquerque, N.Mex., the 46-year-old foundation established the award this year to recognize excellence in basic or applied research dealing with the relationship between the environment and human health. The award, an engraved crystal statue accompanied by a $2,500 cash prize, was presented to Upton in April.

    Currently retired and living in Santa Fe, N.Mex., Upton, 70, has devoted his career to teaching and researching many aspects of environmental health sciences. He received his bachelor's and medical degrees in 1944 and 1946, respectively, from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

    He spent 18 years, 1951-69, as a pathologist in the biology division of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, where he began research on the carcinogenic affects of ionizing radiation. He then moved to head the department of pathology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook until 1977.

    >From 1977 to 1979, Upton served as director of the National Cancer Institute under President Jimmy Carter. From 1980 until his retirement last year, he was director of the Institute of Environmental Medicine and chairman of the department of environmental medicine at the New York University School of Medicine.

    For the most part, Upton says, his scientific and medical concerns have focused on the effects of toxicants created by toxic wastes.

    "We are just now beginning to recognize the limits to which we can pollute the planet and the planetary ecosystem without suffering adverse consequences," he says. "We need to try and set priorities, lest we scatter our efforts and waste our limited resources.

    "Scientists must figure out how to address the many environmental health problems in ways that make the most sense and give us the best bang for the buck."

    Upton notes that atmospheric problems such as the increase of carbon dioxide and decrease of ozone levels make the future of environmental health research a global endeavor.

    "There is a new dimension that will require attention and that is the global ecosystem. The scientific community is going to have to address these issues because of the global nature of the problems," he says. "There is going to have to be widespread scientific understanding and public cooperation on a scale unprecedented in the past."

    The Lovelace Medical Foundation is a private, nonprofit biomedical research institution housing nearly 300 scientists and support staff. It has a research budget of about $25 million each year. --Ron Kaufman