NSF Recognizes 1997 National Medal of Science Winners
Presidential award is nation's highest scientific commendation
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The National Science Foundation today welcomed the announcement by President Clinton of the nine 1997 winners of the National Medal of Science, recognizing exemplary work in such diverse fields as human genetics, mathematics, physical science, and cognition and learning.
The Medal of Science, which is awarded by the President, is the United States' equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
NSF Director Neal Lane, in announcing the names of the recipients of the nation's highest honor for groundbreaking scientific research, noted that the Medal symbolizes the importance of the research done by those who work anonymously and often without monetary incentive.
"It is important that the nation publicly repay its debt to these outstanding men and women, whose contributions to science have helped to advance human learning, fight disease and provide insight into the central questions of the nature of universe and humanity's place in it," Lane said.
One of this year's medals will be awarded posthumously to Martin Schwarzschild, the Higgins Professor of Astronomy Emeritus at Princeton University. Schwarzschild, who died April 10, is being recognized for his far-reaching insights into the theory of the evolution of stars and into the dynamics of galaxies.
As in years past, the 1997 medals recognize scientific accomplishments that, in many cases, have laid the foundation for cutting edge science that continues to make headlines today.
Medalist James D. Watson, the president of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., for example, is being recognized for his groundbreaking work in discovering the double-helix structure of DNA, the genetic building block.
Similarly, Medalist Harold S. Johnston, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley, is being recognized for his work in proving that humans can make noticeable changes in the chemical composition of Earth's atmosphere. His research laid the groundwork for subsequent studies of artificial depletion of the earth's protective ozone layer.
The National Medal of Science was established by Congress in 1959. NSF administers the annual medal competition. The Medal honors the contributions made by outstanding individuals who have significantly advanced knowledge in the following fields; physics, biology, mathematics, engineering, and sociology and other behavioral sciences. Nominations are reviewed by the President's Committee on the National Medal of Science.
Including this year's recipients, the Medal has been awarded to 353 distinguished scientists and engineers, including Eugene M. Shoemaker, an astronomer and co-discoverer of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which struck the surface of Jupiter in 1994; Milton Friedman, an internationally known economist who performed seminal research in the fields of consumption analysis, monetary history and theory; and Edward O. Wilson, who pioneered the field of sociobiology.
The Medal of Science winners were announced simultaneously with those of the National Medal of Technology. The technology medal, administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce, recognizes technological innovation and advancement of U.S. global competitiveness.
Recipients of the 1997 National Medal of Science
William K. Estes, professor emeritus of psychology at Harvard University, for fundamental theories of cognition and learning that transformed the field of experimental psychology and led to the development of quantitative cognitive science. His pioneering methods of quantitative modeling and an insistence on rigor and precision established the standard for modern psychological science. (Media Contacts: Peter West, National Science Foundation, 703-292-8070 and Susan Green, Harvard University, 617-495-1585.)
Darleane C. Hoffman, director of the Glenn T. Seaborg Institute for Transactinium Science at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, University of California at Berkeley, for her discovery of plutonium in nature and for her numerous contributions to our understanding of radioactive decay, notably of heavy nuclei. She is an internationally recognized leader in nuclear chemistry, particularly the topics of nuclear fission, properties of actinide elements, and reactions of heavy ions. (Media Contacts: Peter West, National Science Foundation, 703-292-8070 and Jeffery Kahn, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 510-486-4019.)
Harold S. Johnston, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, for understanding the chemistry of nitrogen compounds and their role and reactions in the earth's stratosphere and in urban areas. His chemical and environmental research, along with his commitment to science in the service of society have resulted in pivotal contributions to the understanding and conservation of the earth's atmosphere. (Media Contacts: Peter West, National Science Foundation, 703-292-8070 and Bob Sanders, at the University of California at Berkeley, 510-643-6998.)
Marshall N. Rosenbluth, professor and research physicist, University of California, San Diego, for his fundamental contributions to plasma physics, his leadership in the quest to develop controlled thermonuclear fusion, and his wide-ranging technical contributions to national security. His theoretical studies of the behavior of plasmas and their instabilities provided a significant foundation for the design and development of prototype devices for fusion power. (Media Contacts: Peter West, National Science Foundation, 703-292-8070 and Warren Froelich, University of California, San Diego, 619-534-8564.)
Martin Schwarzschild, Higgins Professor of Astronomy Emeritus at Princeton University (Deceased: April 10, 1997) for his seminal contributions to the theory of the evolution of stars and his creative insights into dynamics of galaxies. His research forms the basis for much of contemporary astrophysics. The many students he trained are among today's leaders in the field. (Media Contacts: Peter West, National Science Foundation, 703-292-8070 and Jackie Savani, Princeton University, 609-258-3600.)
James D. Watson, president of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. for five decades of scientific and intellectual leadership in molecular biology, starting with his co-discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA. He was a forceful advocate for the Human Genome Project and shaped that effort as the founding director of National Center for Human Genome Research. (Media Contacts: Peter West, National Science Foundation, 703-292-8070 and Susan Cooper, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, N.Y. 516-367-8455.)
Robert A. Weinberg, member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for crucial discoveries that clarified the genetic basis of human cancers. His work has influenced virtually all major aspects of our current understanding of the origins of cancer, from mutations affecting certain cellular genes, to the development of diagnostic tests for such mutations, to the description of events that produce cancer. (Media Contacts: Peter West, National Science Foundation, 703-292-8070 and Seema Kumar, the Whitehead Institute, 617-258-6153.)
George W. Wetherill, member of the department of terrestrial magnetism at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, for his fundamental contributions to measuring astronomical time scales and understanding how earth-like planets may be created in evolving solar systems. His pioneering achievements include developing precise radiometric techniques for dating the age of meteorites and creating conceptual models and computer algorithms for the accretion of a few, solid terrestrial planets by collisions with smaller neighbors. (Media Contacts: Peter West, National Science Foundation, 703-292-8070 and Pat Craig, the Carnegie Institution, 202-745-0780.)
Shing-Tung Yau, professor of mathematics at Harvard University, for profound contributions to mathematics that have had a great impact on fields as diverse as topology, algebraic geometry, general relativity and string theory. His work insightfully combines two different mathematical approaches and has resulted in the solution of several long-standing and important problems in mathematics. (Media Contacts: Peter West, National Science Foundation, 703-292-8070 and Susan Green, Harvard University, 617-495-1585.)
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