NAS Honors 17 For Contributions To Science

John D. Roberts Arthur J. Hundhausen John Clarke R. John Collier Arnold O. Beckman C. Grant Willson The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) will present awards today to 17 scientists whose work defined, refined, or advanced a field. The awards will be presented during the NAS's 136th annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Scientists elected to NAS in 1998 also will be inducted at the meeting. The NAS's highest honor, the Public Welfare Medal, goes to Arnold O. Beckman, founder of both Beckma

Apr 26, 1999
Paul Smaglik


John D. Roberts

Arthur J. Hundhausen

John Clarke

R. John Collier

Arnold O. Beckman

C. Grant Willson
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) will present awards today to 17 scientists whose work defined, refined, or advanced a field. The awards will be presented during the NAS's 136th annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Scientists elected to NAS in 1998 also will be inducted at the meeting.

The NAS's highest honor, the Public Welfare Medal, goes to Arnold O. Beckman, founder of both Beckman Instruments Inc. and the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. Beckman was chosen for his leadership in the "development of analytical instrumentation and for his deep and abiding concern for the vitality of the nation's scientific enterprise." The medal, established to recognize distinguished application of science to public welfare, has been presented since 1914.

The company Beckman founded in 1935 funded the philanthropy he established formally in 1977. The foundation has contributed more than $300 million for research and education. "I accumulated my wealth by selling instruments to scientists," Beckman notes in a written statement. "So I thought it would be appropriate to make contributions to science, and that's been my number-one guideline for charity."

Beckman started Beckman Instruments with the invention of the acidimeter, the forerunner of the modern pH meter. Although the company that bears his name has developed exotic inventions ranging from a rock smasher for a Mars robot mission to an electronic shark repellent, the instrument he--and the company--are perhaps most known for is the Beckman DU Spectrophotometer, which debuted in 1940.

Beckman has also received the National Medal of Science, Presidential Citizens Medal, and the National Medal of Technology.

The NAS Award for Initiatives in Research goes to Jennifer A. Doudna, assistant investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and associate professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry, Yale University. The prize of $15,000 is awarded annually in different fields (biomedical science in 1999) to recognize innovative young scientists and encourage research likely to lead toward human benefit. Doudna was chosen "for her pioneering studies, which have enabled the determination of complex RNA structures, especially those of ribozymes, through X-ray crystallography."

Doudna is now focusing on structures involved in hepatitis viral replication. "We're interested in understanding RNA structure as it relates to biological activity in evolution." She is especially interested in the structural recognition of signaling mechanisms and understanding how signal recognition can target proteins across a cell's membrane. The award "honors not only my work, but also the students and postdocs in my lab," she notes. Presented since 1981, the award was established by AT&T Bell Laboratories in honor of William O. Baker and is supported currently by Lucent Technologies.

The NAS Award in Molecular Biology--a medal and a prize of $20,000 awarded annually for a recent notable discovery in molecular biology by a young scientist--goes to Clifford J. Tabin, associate professor, department of genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston. Tabin was chosen "for his contributions in analyzing genes that establish asymmetric body patterns and control limb development in vertebrates."

Tabin notes that complex cascades of chemicals have been elucidated that determine whether tissue will develop into an arm or a leg, and whether a heart valve will grow to the right or to the left. He predicts that more such reactions will be revealed, and in greater detail. "The frontier of developmental biology is rapidly becoming morphogenetic," he notes. He considers the award a sign of developmental biology's growth. "It's a nice recognition for the whole field," he says of the award, which is supported currently by the Monsanto Co. and has been presented since 1962.

The Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology--a prize of $5,000 given approximately every two years in recognition of excellence in the field of microbiology--goes to R. John Collier, Presley Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, department of microbiology and molecular genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston. Collier was chosen "for his seminal contribution to the understanding of bacterial pathogenesis by the elucidation of the action of the diphtheria toxin."

Collier notes that the diphtheria and anthrax toxins cross cellular membranes--but in different ways. "In both of these toxins, the receptor binding parts form pores and channels in the membrane, which we think are passageways. Further work involves discerning why the two toxins use different methods of invasion and how the actual pores relate to the translational process," Collier comments. The award is supported by the Foundation for Microbiology and has been presented since 1968.


Jan Smit

Harold E. Pashler

Jennifer A. Doudna

Elliot M. Meyerowitz

Sean C. Solomon

Clifford J. Tabin
The NAS Award in Chemical Sciences goes to John D. Roberts, institute professor of chemistry, emeritus, and lecturer, Gates and Crellin Laboratories of Chemistry, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. The medal and prize of $20,000 is awarded annually for innovative research in the chemical sciences that contributes to a better understanding of the natural sciences and to the benefit of humanity. Roberts was chosen "for defining modern physical organic chemistry-- the integration of physical chemistry and organic synthesis applied to the study of the relations between the structure and reactivity of organic molecules."

Roberts' current work involves correlating drug action with conformation and predicting the conformational preferences of simple molecules. He notes that conformational changes are harder to predict for nonaqueous solvents of low polarity, such as tetrahydrofuran, and that nonhydroxylic solvents of higher polarity, such as dimethyl sulfoxide, are harder to predict than some aqueous solutions. "Our current studies have shown some large and perhaps unexpected changes occur that are different from what is observed in water solution," Roberts notes in response to a written query. The prize, supported currently by the Merck Foundation, has been awarded since 1979.

The Arctowski Medal--a prize of $20,000, plus $60,000 to an institution of the recipient's choice, awarded every three years to further research in solar physics and solar-terrestrial relationships--goes to Arthur J. Hundhausen, senior scientist emeritus, High Altitude Observatory, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colo. Hundhausen was chosen "for his exceptional research in solar and solar-wind physics, particularly in the area of coronal and solar-wind disturbances." The medal was established in honor of Henryk Arctowski and has been awarded since 1969.

The NAS Award for Chemistry in Service to Society--a prize of $20,000 awarded every two years for contributions to chemistry, either in fundamental science or its application, that clearly satisfy a societal need--goes to C. Grant Willson, IBM Almaden Research Laboratory (retired), and professor and Rashid Engineering Regents Chair, department of chemistry and chemical engineering, University of Texas, Austin. Willson was chosen "for his fundamental contributions to the chemistry of materials that produce micropatterns in semiconductors and for its widespread application in the microelectronics industry for the benefit of society." The award, established by E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. and given this year for contributions made in industry, has been presented since 1991.

The Comstock Prize in Physics goes to John Clarke, Luis W. Alvarez Memorial Chair for Experimental Physics and professor of physics, University of California, Berkeley. A prize of $20,000 is awarded approximately every five years to a resident of North America for recent innovative discovery or investigation in electricity, magnetism, or radiant energy, broadly interpreted. Clarke was chosen "for his major contributions to the development of superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDS) and their use for scientific measurements, especially involving electricity, magnetism, and electromagnetic waves." The prize was established through the Cyrus B. Comstock Fund and has been presented since 1913.

The Arthur L. Day Prize and Lectureship--a prize of $20,000 awarded approximately every three years to a scientist making new contributions to the physics of the Earth and whose four to six lectures would prove a solid, timely, and useful addition to the knowledge and literature in the field--goes to Sean C. Solomon, director, terrestrial magnetism department, Carnegie Institution of Washington. Solomon was chosen "for his analysis of seismological data constraining the tectonics of the Earth's lithosphere, and for his development of global tectonic models of the moon and terrestrial planets." The prize was established by the bequest of Arthur L. Day and has been presented since 1972.

The Gibbs Brothers Medal--a prize of $5,000 awarded every two years for outstanding contributions in the field of naval architecture and marine engineering--goes to Justin E. Kerwin, professor of naval architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. Kerwin was chosen "for his outstanding contributions in the field of naval architecture, including the development of computational methods used worldwide in propeller design." The medal was established by the bequest of William Francis Gibbs and Frederic H. Gibbs and has been presented since 1965.

The NAS Award for the Industrial Application of Science goes to Ralph F. Hirschmann, Makineni Chair of Bioorganic Chemistry, department of chemistry, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. The prize of $25,000 is awarded approximately every three years for original scientific work of intrinsic scientific importance and with significant, beneficial application in industry--Hirschmann was chosen "for his ingenuity in creative chemical design and synthesis directed to the commercial production of numerous essential pharmaceuticals, such as anti-inflammatory steroids and antihypertensive compounds." The award was established by the IBM Corp. in honor of Ralph E. Gomory, and has been presented since 1990.

The Richard Lounsbery Award--a medal and a prize of $50,000 awarded annually in recognition of extraordinary scientific achievement in biology and medicine, alternating between young American and French scientists--goes to Elliot M. Meyerowitz, professor of biology, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. Meyerowitz was chosen "for his pioneering contributions to the molecular genetics of plant architecture, which have practical implications for agriculture." The award was established by Vera Lounsbery in memory of her husband and has been presented since 1979.

The Robertson Memorial Lecture goes to Akkihebal R. Ravishankara, chief, atmospheric chemical kinetics group, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, Colo. The prize of $7,500 is awarded approximately every three years to a distinguished scientist of any nationality who is invited to lecture on his or her work and its international implications. The 1999 field is environmental science. Ravishankara was chosen "for his fundamental contributions to quantifying atmospheric chemical processes, which have led to dramatic improvements in our understanding of global chemical changes." The lecture was established by friends and associates of Howard P. Robertson and has been presented since 1967.

The NAS Award for Scientific Reviewing--a prize of $5,000 for excellence in scientific reviewing within the past 10 years (the 1999 field is economics)--goes to James M. Poterba, Mitsui Professor of Economics, department of economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. Poterba was chosen "for his influential and comprehensive review of factors determining the savings of individuals over their lifetimes and the private accumulation of wealth for retirement." The award was established by Annual Reviews Inc. and the Institute for Scientific Information in honor of J. Murray Luck and has been presented since 1979.

The Mary Clark Thompson Medal--a prize of $7,500 awarded every three to five years for important contributions to geology and paleontology--goes to Jan Smit, professor of sedimentary geology, Free University of Amsterdam, Netherlands. Smit was chosen "for establishing the sequence of impact-generated events that occurred 65 million years ago, including ejecta fallout, tsunami propagation, geochemical disturbances, and extinction in foraminifera and dinosaurs." The medal was established by a gift of Mary Clark Thompson and has been presented since 1921.

The Troland Research Awards--a sum of $35,000 given annually to each of two recipients to support their research in experimental psychology--goes to Nancy G. Kanwisher, associate professor, department of brain and cognitive sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and to Harold E. Pashler, professor, department of psychology, University of California, San Diego. Kanwisher was chosen "for her innovative research on visual attention, awareness, and imagery, including the characterization of a face perception module and discovery of a place-encoding module." Pashler was chosen "for his many experimental breakthroughs in the study of spatial attention and central executive control and for his insightful theoretical analysis of human cognitive architecture." The awards were established by the bequest of Leonard T. Troland and have been presented since 1984.