2013 AAAS Philip Hauge Abelson Prize Presented to Lewis M. Branscomb

Lewis M. Branscomb, a prominent American physicist, policy advisor and research manager, has been chosen by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to receive the 2013 Philip Hauge Abelson Prize.

He was honored "for his prolific and distinguished career in science, technology, innovation, and policy" and "for his achievements in academia, in business, in government, and as a philanthropist."

Lewis M. Branscomb | Courtesy of Constance M. Branscomb

Branscomb is Aetna Professor in Public Policy and Corporate Management (emeritus) at Harvard University and also holds appointments at the University of California, San Diego in the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies and the Scripps Institution for Oceanography. He has authored or co-authored more than 500 papers and ten books on topics ranging from basic physics and astrophysics to innovation and entrepreneurship, domestic and international science policy, information technology, and the science of countering terrorism.

In nominating Branscomb for the award, James J. McCarthy, professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University, said: "When one thinks of unrelenting advocacy for making sound science the basis of decision making, Lewis Branscomb is one of the first names to come to mind. His career is a metaphor for effectiveness at the interface of science and policy."  He added, "Legions of public leaders, peers and former students are more effective today in their uses and pursuit of science for the public good because of Lewis Branscomb's lifelong contributions."

In addition to his outstanding scientific and technical achievements, Branscomb has taken on a wide range of public service roles. President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the National Science Board and he served as chairman of that board from 1980 to 1984. He served on the President's Science Advisory Committee (1964-1968) under President Lyndon Johnson, and was appointed to the National Productivity Advisory Committee by President Ronald Reagan.

Branscomb also has served on numerous boards in both the corporate and public sectors, including as president of the American Physical Society and Sigma Xi and on the AAAS Board of Directors. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Academy of Public Administration. He also is a fellow of AAAS.

In 2012, Branscomb helped launch the Center for Science and Democracy at the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists, with a goal of "strengthening American democracy by advancing the essential role of science, evidence-based decision making, and constructive debate" in public policy making. 

The Abelson Prize was inspired by the late Philip Hauge Abelson, long-time senior advisor to AAAS and editor of the journal Science. Abelson, who also served as president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, died 1 August 2004, following more than 60 years of service to science and society. The award is given annually to either a public servant, in recognition of sustained exceptional contributions to advancing science, or to a scientist whose career has been distinguished both for scientific achievement and for other notable services to the scientific community. Established in 1985 by the AAAS Board of Directors, the award consists of a commemorative medallion and an honorarium of $5,000.

Branscomb received his B.A. in physics summa cum laude from Duke University in 1945 and his Ph.D. in physics from Harvard in 1949, where he was also appointed Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows. In his early research, he pioneered the study of atomic and molecular negative ions and their role in the atmospheres of Earth and stars. In 1951, he joined the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) as a research physicist, and was a co-founder of the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics at the University of Colorado.  In 1969, he was appointed director of NBS (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) by President Richard Nixon. He also has served as vice president and chief scientist at IBM and was editor of Reviews of Modern Physics.

Branscomb's honors include the Vannevar Bush Award of the National Science Board, the Arthur Bueche Award of the National Academy of Engineering, the Gold Medal of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Okawa Prize for Communications and Informatics, and the Centennial Medal of the Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

The Abelson Prize will be bestowed upon Branscomb during the 180th AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago, Ill., 13-17 February 2014. A ceremony and reception will be held in the Rouge Room of the Fairmont Chicago Hotel on Friday, 14 February at 6:15 p.m.