Press Release

NAS Honors Four for Major Contributions in Physical, Earth, and Space Sciences

By SpaceRef Editor
January 20, 2016
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The National Academy of Sciences will honor four individuals with awards in recognition of their extraordinary scientific achievements in a variety of fields in the physical, earth, and space sciences.

Carolyn Bertozzi, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University, will receive the 2016 NAS Award in Chemical Sciences.

Bertozzi invented a new class of chemical reactions, called bio-orthogonal chemistry, that lets scientists label biomolecules within living cells without disrupting any of the biochemical reactions that are naturally occurring there. These methods, now widely used, have allowed scientists to study a range of biomolecules — including glycans (a type of carbohydrate), lipids, and proteins — in living systems in real time. Bertozzi has pioneered the use of bio-orthogonal chemistry in the field of glycobiology, using the technique to study the glycans that decorate the surfaces of cells and change during inflammation or as a cell transforms from normal to malignant. These methods, which have recently been applied to imaging in simple animal models such as zebrafish, are allowing Bertozzi and others to make important insights into intracellular processes responsible for health and disease.

Supported by the Merck Company Foundation, the NAS Award in Chemical Sciences includes a $15,000 prize and honors innovative research in the chemical sciences that contributes to a better understanding of the natural sciences and to the benefit of humanity.

Timothy M. Brown, principal scientist at Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope, is the 2016 winner of the James Craig Watson Medal.

Brown has made fundamental contributions to astronomy and astrophysics through instrument development, theory and interpretation, and observations. He formulated a method to make extremely sensitive images of the sun, which became key to the field of helioseismology. Brown’s pioneering instrument developments and observations led to major advancements in the field of asteroseismology and to including asteroseismology as a science goal of NASA’s Kepler star-observing mission. Brown and David Charbonneau measured the first transits of an exoplanet in front of its star, and Brown went on to develop a method to study exoplanet atmospheres through analysis of the light of the planet’s parent star. Brown and colleagues employed this method to make the first detection of an exoplanet atmosphere. This technique is now used around the globe.

The James Craig Watson Medal is presented every two years for outstanding contributions to the science of astronomy and carries with it a $25,000 prize and $50,000 to support the recipient’s research.

James F. Kasting, Evan Pugh University Professor of Geosciences at Pennsylvania State University, will receive the 2016 NAS Award in Early Earth and Life Sciences, presented this year with the Stanley Miller Medal.

Kasting has made fundamental insights into the evolution of planetary atmospheres through the development of numerical models. He has calculated the minimum levels of carbon dioxide needed to prevent the planet from freezing into a “Snowball Earth” scenario, for instance. And he and his colleagues have used his models to determine when the planet’s carbon dioxide will run out and its water will be lost, calculating that the Earth will no longer be able to support life in another 2 billion years or less. Kasting’s studies into the evolution of atmospheric gases have provided insight into the proliferation of life on the early Earth. He has also made major contributions in the search for life on other planets, including refining the concept of the “habitable zone” — the region around a star where a planet can support liquid water and possibly life.

The NAS Award in Early Earth and Life Sciences rotates presentation with the Charles Doolittle Walcott Medal for research on Cambrian or pre-Cambrian life, and the Stanley Miller Medal, which recognizes research on Earth’s early development as a planet, including prebiotic chemistry and the origin of life; planetary accretion, differentiation, and tectonics; and early evolution of the atmosphere and oceans. Each medal is presented with a $10,000 prize.

Sergio Verdú, Eugene Higgins Professor of Electrical Engineering at Princeton University, will receive the 2016 NAS Award for Scientific Reviewing, presented this year in computer science.

Verdú, a leader in information theory, has contributed to numerous books, monographs, book chapters, and review papers, many of which have become essential reading for those working in information and communication theory. His award-winning 1998 book Multiuser Detection, for instance, is still frequently used by researchers and systems designers in wireless communications networks. Verdú now serves as editor-in-chief of Foundations and Trends in Communication and Information Theory, a monograph series that he developed. The series has proved to be an important tool that allows researchers to quickly get up to speed on important topics. Verdú, with publisher Mike Casey, developed the original concept for the entire Foundations and Trends series, which now covers more than 30 different areas in computer science, communications, and business, extending Verdú’s influence far beyond his own field.

The NAS Award for Scientific Reviewing, supported by Annual Reviews in honor of J. Murray Luck, recognizes authors whose reviews have synthesized extensive and difficult material, rendering a significant service to science and influencing the course of scientific thought. The award includes a $20,000 prize.

The winners will be honored in a ceremony on Sunday, May 1, during the National Academy of Sciences’ 153rd annual meeting.

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 and the National Academy of Medicine — provides science, engineering, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

SpaceRef staff editor.