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Academy Honors 17 for Major Contributions to Science

January 19, 2012

WASHINGTON—The National Academy of Sciences will honor 17 individuals with awards in recognition of their extraordinary scientific achievements in a wide range of fields spanning the physical, biological, and social sciences. The recipients for 2012 are:

Dora E. Angelaki, professor and chair of the department of neuroscience at the Baylor College of Medicine, is the recipient of the inaugural Pradel Research Award in Neuroscience. The $50,000 research award honors Angelaki for her fundamental discoveries on mechanisms of representation of vestibular sensory stimuli within the mammalian brain. Angelaki’s pioneering work has clarified how vestibular and visual signals combine to mediate perception and to direct appropriate motor behaviors. Her research findings have important implications in the design of more effective therapies to treat disorders of balance and movement.

Christopher Bettinger, assistant professor in the departments of materials science and engineering and biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, is the recipient of the NAS Award for Initiatives in Research, given this year in materials science. Bettinger is being honored for his innovative research on advanced materials for next-generation implanted medical devices, in particular on materials that will degrade benignly in the body, and, ultimately, on materials that will sense their surroundings and respond actively to help cure disease. Supported by Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, the award comes with a $15,000 prize and recognizes innovative young scientists and encourages research likely to lead toward new capabilities for human benefit.

Zhijian (James) Chen, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and George L. MacGregor Distinguished Chair in the department of molecular biology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, is the recipient of the NAS Award in Molecular Biology. Chen is being honored for two contributions important for cancer and immunity: discovering an unsuspected component in a central signaling pathway and identifying an unprecedented role for a subcellular organelle in fighting viral infection. Sponsored by Pfizer Inc., the award consists of a $25,000 prize to recognize a recent notable discovery by a young scientist.

Michael J. Hopkins, professor of mathematics at Harvard University, is the recipient of the NAS Award in Mathematics. Hopkins is being honored for his research in algebraic topology, a field that studies algebraic invariants of the shape of continuous subsets in higher dimensional space. Hopkins has established important connections between algebraic topology and other areas of mathematics, and has contributed to the solution of a long-standing problem on the Kervaire invariant. Established by the American Mathematical Society in commemoration of its centennial, the award consists of a $5,000 prize for excellence of research in the mathematical sciences published within the past 10 years.

Robert G. Keane Jr., president of Ship Design USA Inc., will receive the Gibbs Brothers Medal. Keane is being honored for continued excellence as a naval architect over many years, exemplified by the outstanding naval warships that he had a major part in designing, helping to make the U.S. Navy the most powerful in the world. Established by bequest of William Francis Gibbs and Frederic H. Gibbs, the medal recognizing outstanding contributions in the field of naval architecture and marine engineering is presented with a $20,000 prize.

Andrew H. Knoll, Fisher Professor of Natural History in the department of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University, is the recipient of the Mary Clark Thompson Medal. Knoll is being recognized for his unparalleled contributions relating Precambrian life to Earth’s physical and chemical history and for innovative contributions on the paleophysiology and evolution of algae and angiosperms. Established in 1919, the Mary Clark Thompson Medal honors important services to geology and paleontology and is presented with a $15,000 prize.

Jonathan B. Losos, the Monique and Philip Lehner Professor for the Study of Latin America and curator of herpetology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, is the recipient of theDaniel Giraud Elliot Medal. Losos is recognized for his novel and penetrating evolutionary studies of adaptive radiation in vertebrates, notably his comprehensive study of Anolis lizards in tropicalAmerica, as summarized in his recent book, Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree: Ecology and Adaptive Radiation of Anoles. Established by a gift from Margaret Henderson Elliot in 1917, the Elliot Medal recognizes “a most meritorious, recently published work in zoology or paleontology.” The medal is given every four years and carries an award of $15,000.

Tobin J. Marks, professor in the departments of chemistry and materials science and engineering at Northwestern University, is the recipient of the NAS Award in Chemical Sciences Marks is being honored for his groundbreaking contributions to understanding structure and function of catalysts — useful in the production of environmentally friendly plastics and new materials. Supported by the Merck Company Foundation, the award and $15,000 prize honors innovative research in the chemical sciences that contributes to a better understanding of the natural sciences and to the benefit of humanity.

Harry Y. McSween Jr., Chancellor’s Professor and Distinguished Professor of Science at the University of Tennessee, will receive the J. Lawrence Smith Medal. He is being honored for his pioneering studies of the igneous and metamorphic histories of the parent planets of the chondritic and achondritic meteorites, with particular emphasis on his work on the geological history of Mars based on studies of Martian meteorites and spacecraft missions to the planet. The medal and prize of $25,000 are awarded for recent original and meritorious investigations of meteoric bodies. The award was established as a gift from Sarah Julia Smith in memory of her husband and has been presented since 1888.

Jason P. Mitchell, assistant professor in the department of psychology at Harvard University, and Laura E. Schultz, Class of 1943 Career Development Associate Professor of Cognitive Sciences in the department of brain and cognitive sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will receive Troland Research Awards. Mitchell is being recognized for his insightful use of neuroimaging and behavioral methods to enrich our understanding of how people infer the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of others. Schultz is being recognized for her fundamental contributions to our understanding of how children develop knowledge of the physical and social world. Two Troland Research Awards of $50,000 are given annually to recognize unusual achievement by young investigators and to further empirical research within the broad spectrum of experimental psychology.

Jeremiah P. Ostriker, professor in the department of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University, is the recipient of the James Craig Watson Medal. Ostriker was selected for his seminal contributions to the theory of the interstellar and intergalactic medium, his cosmological simulations that help illuminate the formation and evolution of structure in the universe, his theoretical contribution to the existence of dark matter halos around galaxies, and his dedication to the scientific and academic communities through service as a provost, builder of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and mentor to generations of young astronomers. The medal is given every three years to honor contributions to the science of astronomy and carries an award of $25,000, plus $25,000 to support the recipient’s research.

Michael I. Posner, professor emeritus at the University of Oregon, is the recipient of the John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science. Posner is being honored for his outstanding contributions to the understanding of spatial attention and development of attentional systems in children, and for his pioneering research with Marcus Raichle and Steve Petersen on the neural basis of cognition using non-invasive functional brain imaging methods. The Carty Award, a medal and a prize of $25,000, is given for noteworthy and distinguished accomplishment in any field of science and is presented this year in the field of cognitive science.

Robert Powell, Robson Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, is the recipient of the NAS Award for Behavioral Research Relevant to the Prevention of Nuclear War. Powell is being honored for his development of sophisticated game theoretic models of conflict that illuminate the heart of the strategic dilemmas of nuclear deterrence. The award, established by a gift of William and Katherine Estes, comes with a $20,000 prize and recognizes basic research in any field of cognitive or behavioral science that uses rigorous formal and empirical methods to advance our understanding of issues relating to the risk of nuclear war.

Larry R. Squire, Distinguished Professor in Psychiatry, Neurosciences, and Psychology at the University of California School of Medicine, San Diego, and research career scientist, VA Medical Center, San Diego, is the recipient of the NAS Award for Scientific Reviewing. Squire is a leader in the field of memory and is the foremost expert in the anatomical and functional basis of mammalian memory. Squire is honored for his prolific and comprehensive reviews on memory research, for his seminal books that are standards in the field, and critical reviews of books on neuroscience. The prize of $10,000, presented this year in the field of neuroscience, recognizes excellence in scientific reviewing. The award is supported by Annual Reviews, the Institute for Scientific Information, and The Scientist in honor of J. Murray Luck.

John B. Waterbury, scientist emeritus in the department of biology at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, is the recipient of the Gilbert Morgan Smith Medal. Waterbury is being honored for his path-breaking discovery and characterization of ecologically important marine microorganisms, setting in motion major advances in our understanding of marine food webs and the cycling of essential elements in ocean ecosystems. The award, established through the Helen P. Smith Fund, consists of a $20,000 prize in recognition of excellence in published research on marine or freshwater algae.

The recipients will be honored in a ceremony on Monday, April 30, during the National Academy of Sciences’ 149th annual meeting. Also to be honored is Harold Shapiro, president emeritus and professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, who will receive the 2012 NAS Public Welfare Medal. The medal was established to recognize distinguished contributions in the application of science to the public welfare and has been presented since 1914.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and—with the National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council—provides science, technology, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.