Email Print Share

Alan T. Waterman Award

Collage of photos of Alan T. Waterman winners.

Call for Nominations

The Alan T. Waterman Award recognizes outstanding young researchers in any field of science or engineering supported by the National Science Foundation.

NSF seeks excellent and diverse nominations. Nominations for the 2022 Alan T Waterman Award are accepted from July 19 to September 20, 2021. Nominations must be submitted through the NSF Fastlane system at:

The sections below provide background information showcasing a video on the award, eligibility and selection criteria, nomination requirements, and highlights of the 2021 Alan T. Waterman awardees. Additional information can be found in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) selected from the menu at the left. 

We encourage you to review Tips for Submitting a Strong Nomination. The "Tips" were created by the 2020 Alan T. Waterman Awards Review Committee to support nominators and letter writers in their efforts to expertly showcase the talents and expertise of nominees. 

We also recommend watching this 30 minute webinar which includes an overview of the Waterman award, a presentation on submitting strong nominations, and a demonstration of the nomination portal.


Congress established the Alan T. Waterman Award in August 1975 to mark the 25th Anniversary of the National Science Foundation and to honor its first Director. The annual award recognizes an outstanding young researcher in any field of science or engineering supported by the National Science Foundation. In addition to a medal, the awardee receives a grant of $1,000,000 over a five year period for scientific research or advanced study in the mathematical, physical, biological, engineering, social, or other sciences at the institution of the recipient's choice.

Watch this video to learn more about the Waterman award and hear inspiring stories from the 2020 and 2021 laureates.

Eligibility and Selection Criteria

  • A candidate must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

  • They must be 40 years of age or younger, OR not more than 10 years beyond receipt of the Ph.D. degree, by December 31st of the year in which they are nominated.

  • A candidate should have demonstrated exceptional individual achievement in scientific or engineering research of sufficient quality, originality, innovation, and significant impact on the field so as to situate themselves as a leader among peers.

Nomination Requirements

  • Nomination packages consist of a nomination and four letters of reference submitted via FastLane. NOTE: Reference letters should not exceed two pages.

  • The names of four references are required for each nomination. The references cannot come from the nominee’s home institution. References must be requested by the nominator and submitted by the established FastLane deadline.

  • Nominations will not be reviewed by the Committee unless all the requirements are met.

  • Institutions may nominate an unlimited number of individuals.

2021 Alan T. Waterman Awardees

The National Science Foundation (NSF) named two awardees for its prestigious Alan T. Waterman Award: Nicholas Carnes, Creed C. Black Associate Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University and Melanie Matchett Wood, Professor of Mathematics at Harvard University and Chancellor's Professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

The Waterman Award Committee, an external panel of distinguished scientists and engineers, chaired by Maria M. Klawe, Harvey Mudd College, recommended Drs. Wood and Carnes from a large group of highly qualified early career nominees representing all disciplines.

"It is truly a delight to recognize the outstanding talent embodied by Dr. Carnes and Dr. Wood as this year's recipients of the Alan T. Waterman Award, the highest honor given to early-career scientists and engineers," said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. "Wood is tackling the mysteries and most complex problems in mathematics by looking into the connection of number theory and random matrices. Carnes is looking into how a person's social background may influence their decision to pursue public service and what factors would increase their opportunities to serve."

A video featuring the 2021 Alan T. Waterman Awardees can be found here.

Photo of Emily Balskus.Nicholas Carnes
Creed C. Black Associate Professor of Public Policy and Political Science
Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy

Dr. Carnes is recognized for his path-breaking research on how a range of societal institutions influence opportunity and inequality in the United States. Dr Carnes's new area of scholarship offers new clarity on causes and consequences of changing circumstances for American workers and their families. His innovative work offers original, invaluable, and comprehensive data for gaining new insights on how to improve quality of life for millions of Americans. His research explores the impacts of diversity in educational background, gender, and other demographic characteristics on representation, policy-making, and decision-making. His work shows how more Americans can be effectively represented in decisions of great importance to our nation. The work shows how expanding opportunities for America's underrepresented groups can produce economic growth that benefits an increasingly diverse range of Americans.

Photo of John O. Dabiri.Melanie Matchett Wood
Professor of Mathematics
Harvard University

Dr. Wood is recognized for her pioneering research motivated by questions related to number theory. She has provided new insights into some of the oldest and most difficult problems in mathematics, those associated with integers and prime numbers. Her signature contributions to modern mathematics have come from innovative syntheses of ideas and techniques from many different areas of mathematics, including topology, algebraic geometry, and probability. Dr. Wood has established deep results in the subject of random matrices. She has provided the state of-the-art estimates for the probability that a square random matrix is singular. Some of Dr. Wood's most cited work on random matrices, random graphs, and random sandpiles, should have downstream applications in both physics and statistics. Dr. Wood also developed a nonabelian analogue of the Cohen-Lenstra heuristics, in which class groups are replaced by Galois groups of nonabelian extensions of a varying number field.

NSF press release and photo credit


Please see the Frequently Asked Questions page for specific questions about the award criteria or the nomination process.

For additional information, e-mail the NSF Waterman Award team at