Science Editor-in-Chief Bruce Alberts Wins 2010 Vannevar Bush Award

Bruce M. Alberts, editor-in-chief of the journal Science and recently named United States science envoy, has been selected by the National Science Foundation’s National Science Board to receive the prestigious Vannevar Bush Award for public service in science and technology.

Alberts is being recognized for his exceptional lifetime leadership and dedication to the creativity, openness, and tolerance that define science; passion for improving the human condition; transformational and inspirational leadership in science education and international capacity building; and the tireless pursuit of a “scientific temperament” for the world.

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Bruce M. Alberts

“I am deeply honored to join the group of outstanding science advocates who have won the Vannevar Bush Award,” said Alberts.  “As Bush himself is famous for pointing out, science truly represents an ‘endless frontier’ through which we continuously advance our understanding of the natural world around us, thereby generating knowledge that humanity urgently needs to improve the human condition.”

The award was established in 1980 in the memory of Vannevar Bush, who served as science advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II, helped to establish federal funding for science and engineering as a national priority during peacetime, and was behind the creation of the National Science Foundation.

 

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Vannevar Bush in a meeting regarding the 184-inch cyclotron project, held at the University of California, Berkeley, on 29 March 1940
[Public domain photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of History & Heritage Resources]

“Despite his very visible leadership positions in science, Bruce Alberts has consistently toiled in the trenches so that his goals can be realized,” said Alice S. Huang, president of the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS). “This is the kind of leadership that we especially appreciate at AAAS/Science. Bruce is to be congratulated for this signal honor.”

 

Alberts is an internationally prominent biochemist who was named editor-in-chief of Science in 2008, the 18th editor-in-chief of the journal since its inception in 1880. (Science is published by AAAS, the international nonprofit science society.)

In November 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton named Alberts to serve as one of the country’s first science envoys to travel to North Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia to “fulfill President Obama’s mandate to foster scientific and technological collaboration.”

“Dr. Alberts is an exceptional leader and prominent biologist who is devoted to his international work to improve science education on a global scale,” said Peter C. Agre, chairman of the AAAS Board of Directors. “He truly fits the mold pioneered by Vannevar Bush, and I am certain that scientists from all backgrounds will celebrate this much-deserved recognition.”

Alberts is also professor emeritus in the department of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, to which he returned in 2005 after serving two six-year terms as the president of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in Washington, DC.

During his tenure at the NAS, Alberts was instrumental in developing the landmark National Science Education standards that have been implemented in school systems nationwide. The type of “science as inquiry” teaching we need, says Alberts, emphasizes “logical, hands-on problem solving, and it insists on having evidence for claims that can be confirmed by others. It requires work in cooperative groups, where those with different types of talents can discover them – developing self-confidence and an ability to communicate effectively with others.”

Alberts is also noted as one of the original authors of “The Molecular Biology of the Cell,” a preeminent textbook in the field now in its fifth edition. For the period 2000 to 2009, he served as the co-chair of the InterAcademy Council, a new organization in Amsterdam governed by the presidents of 15 national academies of sciences and established to provide scientific advice to the world.

Committed in his international work to the promotion of the “creativity, openness and tolerance that are inherent to science,” Alberts believes that “scientists all around the world must now band together to help create more rational, scientifically based societies that find dogmatism intolerable.”

Widely recognized for his work in the fields of biochemistry and molecular biology, Alberts has earned many honors and awards, including 16 honorary degrees. He currently serves on the advisory boards of more than 25 nonprofit institutions, including the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“The practical results from science are remarkable. How outcomes like the global positioning system or a cure for childhood leukemia arise is beautifully explained in a series of 20 short case studies produced by the National Academy of Sciences called Beyond Discovery: the Path from Research to Human Benefit,” Alberts added. “But there is much more, because the values and habits of mind of science are also essential for creating effective democratic societies and a peaceful world. Because of this last benefit, spreading high quality science education around the globe has become a major personal goal.”

Past award recipients include some of the United States’ most influential scientists: Nobel laureate Harold Varmus, one of the co-chairs of President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology; Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a former president of AAAS; Norman Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin and former chairman of the National Academy of Engineering; the late Norman Borlaug, Nobel laureate and the father of the “Green Revolution” in food production; and the late Philip H. Abelson, who served editor of Science from 1962-1984. [See a full list of past honorees].

Alberts will receive the award medal at a black-tie dinner and ceremony at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC on 4 May 2010.