The American Association for the Advancement of Science has announced the 2023 winners of eight longstanding awards that recognize scientists, engineers, innovators and public servants for their contributions to science and society.
The awards honor individuals and teams for a range of achievements, from advancing science diplomacy and engaging the public in order to boost scientific understanding to mentoring the next generation of scientists and engineers.
The 2023 winners were first announced on social media between Feb. 23 and Feb. 28; see the hashtag #AAASAward to learn more. The winners were also recognized at the 2023 AAAS Annual Meeting, held in Washington, D.C., March 2-5. The winning individuals and teams were honored with tribute videos and received commemorative plaques during several plenary sessions.
Six of the awards include a prize of $5,000, while the AAAS David and Betty Hamburg Award for Science Diplomacy awards the winning individual or team $10,000 and the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize awards the winning individual or team $25,000.
Learn more about the awards’ history, criteria and selection processes via the AAAS awards page, and read on to learn more about the individuals and teams who earned the 2023 awards.
AAAS Philip Hauge Abelson Prize
Sekazi Mtingwa is the recipient of the 2023 AAAS Philip Hauge Abelson Prize, which recognizes someone who has made significant contributions to the scientific community — whether through research, policy or civil service — in the United States. The awardee can be a public servant, scientist or individual in any field who has made sustained, exceptional contributions and other notable services to the scientific community. Mtingwa exemplifies a commitment to service and dedication to the scientific community, research workforce and society. His contributions have shaped research, public policy and the next generation of scientific leaders, according to the award’s selection committee.
As a theoretical physicist, Mtingwa pioneered work on intrabeam scattering that is foundational to particle accelerator research. Today a principal partner at Triangle Science, Education and Economic Development, where he consults on STEM education and economic development, Mtingwa has been affiliated during his scientific career with North Carolina A&T State University, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and several national laboratories.
His contributions to the scientific community have included a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in physics. He co-founded the National Society of Black Physicists, which today is a home for more than 500 Black physicists and students. His work has also contributed to rejuvenating university nuclear science and engineering programs and paving the way for the next generation of nuclear scientists and engineers. Mtingwa served as the chair of a 2008 American Physical Society study on the readiness of the U.S. nuclear workforce, the results of which played a key role in the U.S. Department of Energy allocating 20% of its nuclear fuel cycle R&D budget to university programs.
“I have devoted my myself to being an apostle for science for those both at home and abroad who face limited research and training opportunities,” said Mtingwa. “Receiving the highly prestigious Philip Hauge Abelson Prize affirms that I have been successful in this mission. Moreover, it provides me with the armor to press onward to even greater contributions.”
AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize
An interdisciplinary team that includes seismologists, geochemists and geophysicists are the recipients of the 2023 AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize for a study that used seismic detection to learn more about the core of Mars.
The AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize, supported by The Fodor Family Trust, was established in 1923 and is awarded annually to the author or authors of an outstanding paper published in the Research Articles or Reports sections of Science. Recipients of the award, AAAS’ oldest, collectively receive $25,000.
“Seismic detection of the martian core,” by corresponding author Simon C. Stähler and 41 other researchers, was published in Science on July 23, 2021.
The ability to detect, measure and record “marsquakes” via the Mars InSight lander not only offers an accurate picture of Mars’ seismic activity, but such data also allowed researchers to visualize the Martian core for the first time ever. The prize-winning team used a single seismometer on a planet 50 million miles away to narrow down the size of the Martian core (on the larger end of previous estimates), confirm that it is liquid and suggest its iron-nickel chemical composition.
As one reviewer noted, “Literally every study on topics of terrestrial-planetary science will know about it and reference it, as the discovery of a fluid planetary core impacts literally all of its observable behavior, and forms a milestone in planetary evolution, and thus this paper will have ramifications for all of those domain sciences but also much wider out in the study of the solar system and extrasolar planets.”
Said corresponding author Stähler, senior assistant at the Institute of Geophysics at ETH Zürich in Switzerland, “I am very happy to have led the quest of finding a signature of Mars’ core in the seismic data, the result of an effort to bring a seismometer to Mars dating back to the 1980s. While the prize goes to a single paper, it celebrates the work of the whole InSight team.”
InSight, short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is a NASA mission supported by a number of European partners, led by France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales. Significant contributions came from Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris in France; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany; Imperial College London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom; ETH Zürich in Switzerland; and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the United States.
The recipients, many of them seismologists, have together opted to donate their prize to Médecins Sans Frontières for their relief efforts in the Turkey-Syria border region affected by the Feb. 6 earthquake.
AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement in Science
AAAS has honored Jaye Gardiner with the 2023 Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science, which recognizes early-career scientists and engineers — those who are within seven years of completing their terminal degree — who demonstrate excellence in their activities that engage the public with science.
Gardiner, a postdoctoral research associate at Fox Chase Cancer Center whose research focuses on cell-cell interactions in pancreatic tumors, is recognized for her public engagement work that uses comics to communicate with children and adults about science and scientists —an approachable way to share not just the work that scientists do, but to inform diverse audiences about who can be a scientist. The award’s selection committee cited Gardiner’s work as culturally responsive and bi-directional and noted that it “provides a model for all scientists to make meaningful impacts on science and society issues.”
Gardiner launched a project called Gaining STEAM!, which pairs scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with artists in the local community to create comic books that highlight the basics of the scientist’s research and showcase the variety of people engaged in science. Gardiner crowdsourced the printing of the Gaining STEAM! Anthology, and the books have been donated to a program that targets underserved children in the local area.
Gaining STEAM! was also a featured activity at a Wisconsin Institute for Discovery outreach event, where young attendees received free comic books from the Gaining STEAM! project and could meet the real-life scientists featured in the books.
Gardiner’s other public engagement activities beyond comics have also drawn upon art and communication. Her work has included co-founding a biology club as an undergraduate that conducted community outreach with audiences ranging from middle school girls to women at a correctional facility. During her Ph.D., Gardiner developed and taught a course to undergraduates that used drawing as a tool to increase understanding, and as a postdoctoral scholar, she designed and integrated a science communication course into an independent research experience for high school students.
“It’s truly an honor to be recognized for this award. I’ve loved doing outreach since I was an undergrad and have been working to build a career that can incorporate the varied work I do alongside my science,” said Gardiner. “It’s wonderful to get feedback that what I’m doing is meaningful and at a high caliber like my research.”
AAAS Mani Bhaumik Award for Public Engagement in Science
Neil Garg is the recipient of the 2023 AAAS Mani L. Bhaumik Award for Public Engagement with Science, which recognizes scientists and engineers who demonstrate excellence in their contribution to public engagement with science. First awarded in 1987, since 2019 the award has been endowed by and named for quantum physicist Mani L. Bhaumik.
Garg, a distinguished professor and department chair of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles, is honored for his engagement with a range of audiences for the “creative and inspiring tools” he has developed to meaningfully increase public engagement with science, according to the award selection committee.
In addition to his work as a research chemist, he has a long history of engaging with local elementary school students; Garg has visited Warner Avenue Elementary School near UCLA throughout the last decade to perform science demonstrations and hands-on activities. He has also hosted high school students at UCLA, judged science fairs and lectured at the UCLA’s affiliated school for 6ththrough 12thgraders.
Garg has also written books for children. He self-published a chemistry coloring book called The Organic Coloring Book, which he co-authored with his two daughters. In 2020, when children were mostly learning at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he wrote several more books, including the second volume of The Organic Coloring Book, focused on medicine, and an activity book called “The O-Chem (Re)Activity Book.” He also reached new audiences by writing and publishing “The Adult Organic Coloring Book.”
“Receiving the Bhaumik Award is a tremendous honor,” said Garg. “I am especially grateful to AAAS and the visionary scientist and philanthropist Dr. Bhaumik for recognizing the importance of public engagement in the sciences.”
AAAS Mentor Award
Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz is the winner of the 2023 AAAS Mentor Award. He is recognized for his direct mentoring and for the impact of the national program he created. Between the two, Ramirez-Ruiz has reached more than half of the students from minoritized groups who have received a Ph.D. in astronomy in the last five years.
AAAS awards for mentoring honor individuals who have mentored significant numbers of underrepresented students: women of all backgrounds, men from underrepresented minority groups (African American, Native American and Hispanic) and people with disabilities. Winners also must have demonstrated scholarship, activism and community-building on behalf of underrepresented groups in STEM, as well as impacting the climate of a department, college or institution to have significantly increased the diversity of students pursuing or completing Ph.D.s in STEM.
Ramirez-Ruiz, professor and the Vera Rubin Chair of Astronomy at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has directly mentored 12 bachelor’s and master’s students from underrepresented backgrounds who went on to receive a Ph.D., as well as seven underrepresented students who he mentored through their Ph.D. programs. Ramirez-Ruiz has also been a research adviser for more than 200 students, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty.
Ramirez-Ruiz is also recognized for his work creating Lamat, a nationwide program that supports community college students who transfer to four-year institutions and continue onto graduate studies in astronomy. Those reached by the program are disproportionately women and historically marginalized populations — 83% of the 93 participants since the program’s founding. Lamat, which is Mayan for “star,” has been transformative in increasing the number of historically marginalized students earning Ph.D.s in astrophysics.
“To have my work recognized with this award is an extraordinary honor,” said Ramirez-Ruiz. “This award recognizes and elevates the critical role of mentors in creating healthy cultures for scientific inquiry in order to effectively catalyze a more diverse landscape of leaders in STEM fields. I hope my greatest contribution to science is not any particular discovery, but the creation of a new way of thinking that enables a great multitude of students from racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse families to make their own discoveries.”
AAAS Lifetime Mentor Award
Nagambal Shah is the recipient of the 2023 AAAS Lifetime Mentor Award. Shah is honored for her career-long dedication to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in mathematics through both directly mentoring students and pioneering initiatives to make the field of mathematics and statistics more inclusive.
As with the AAAS Mentor Award, the AAAS Lifetime Mentor Award honors individuals who have mentored significant numbers of underrepresented students: women of all backgrounds, men from underrepresented minority groups (African American, Native American and Hispanic) and people with disabilities. Award recipients must have demonstrated scholarship, activism and community-building on behalf of underrepresented groups in STEM, as well as impacting the climate of a department, college or institution to have significantly increased the diversity of students pursuing or completing Ph.D.s in STEM. The Lifetime Mentor Award honors individuals with more than 25 years of mentoring experience.
Shah is professor emerita at Spelman College, a historically Black women’s college, and has mentored a significant number of minority B.A. students who have gone on to receive Ph.D.s, especially considering that her institution does not grant graduate degrees. Shah directly mentored 24 bachelor’s or master’s students from underrepresented backgrounds who went on to complete a Ph.D., as well as eight Ph.D. students from underrepresented backgrounds. She has stayed in contact with her student mentees, continuing to advise beyond their time at Spelman.
Beyond individual mentoring, she has launched and supported programs that have boosted the diversity of Ph.D. earners in her field of mathematics and statistics. Shah organized the first Infinite Possibilities Conference, a conference for underrepresented women in math at many levels. As a longtime member and chair of the American Statistical Association Committee on Minorities in Statistics, Shah founded StatFest, a one-day conference for underrepresented minority undergraduates, and organized what is now known as the ASA Diversity Workshop and Mentoring Program. She also involved Spelman in a National Science Foundation collaborative research grant to train students to become environmental statisticians — an opportunity from which Spelman students have benefitted and one that has continued to foster collaboration by involving Spelman alumnae now in faculty roles.
“I am so proud and humbled to receive this unique award — thank you, AAAS,” said Shah. “I would like to thank all my mentees for journeying with me.”
AAAS David and Betty Hamburg Award for Science Diplomacy
Two scientists have received the 2023 AAAS David and Betty Hamburg Award for Science Diplomacy for their work on seed exchange agreements in Southeast and South Asia: Abdelbagi Ismail and Uma Shankar Singh.
The award recognizes an individual or a small group working together in the scientific, engineering or foreign affairs communities making an outstanding contribution to furthering science diplomacy. First established in 1992 as the International Scientific Cooperation Award, AAAS renamed its Award for Science Diplomacy in 2021 for David and Betty Hamburg, who championed science diplomacy throughout their careers in science and medicine as a means of advancing science, human rights, peace and cooperation.
Ismail is a Sudanese botanist who has worked for the International Rice Research Institute for more than 20 years. In 2017, he established IRRI’s Africa Regional office, which he currently leads. Singh is an Indian plant pathologist who is currently the Asia & Africa Advisor for Research and Partnerships at IRRI.
The Seeds Without Borders initiative was created in response to the need for international collaboration on seed varietal development without compromising seed quality, as the availability of quality seeds is a particular challenge in the Global South that can affect food security and climate change resilience.
Through the initiative, Ismail and Singh have worked to harmonize seed policies and formalize exchanges of key crops across countries. In 2017, they convened representatives from countries in South and Southeast Asia who ratified the Siem Reap Agreement: Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Myanmar, Vietnam and Philippines. This work builds upon two previous agreements involving India, Bangladesh and Nepal. These agreements have been implemented and have already led to better domestic seed policies and fewer tensions among the nations, according to IRRI. The initiative also has the potential to continue growing the network of seed exchange agreements, they noted.
“I am honored and privileged to receive the 2023 AAAS David and Betty Hamburg Award — a humbling recognition of the work done to further the potential of science diplomacy in agriculture, as a means for poverty reduction and the empowerment of farmers worldwide,” said Ismail. “This award stands as a symbol of our collective efforts to advance the global sharing of knowledge and innovation for a more prosperous, equitable and food-secure world.”
Added Singh, “This recognition of Seeds Without Borders by AAAS will go a long way in expanding agreements like this to cover more countries—particularly in Africa and the Pacific.”
AAAS Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility
Peter Hotez is the recipient of the 2023 AAAS Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility for his scientific work in vaccine development and his work as a public voice promoting and defending vaccines.
The award honors scientists, engineers and their organizations whose exemplary actions have demonstrated scientific freedom and/or responsibility in challenging circumstances. Actions worthy of the award can include acting to protect public health or safety, focusing public attention on potential impacts of science and technology, or defending the professional freedom of scientists and engineers. The award can honor a lifetime of service or a particular act that demonstrates the value of scientific freedom and responsibility, and some awardees may have risked their freedom and physical safety by their actions.
Hotez is a physician and scientist who currently serves as co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. His scientific career has focused on the development of vaccines for neglected diseases, including hookworm, schistosomiasis and Chagas disease. Hotez has also worked toward the development of a low-cost COVID-19 vaccine, CORBEVAX.
He is also a leading public advocate for vaccinations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Hotez has been a voice in the media advocating for COVID-19 vaccines, correcting scientific misinformation and addressing the science in debates about vaccines. His 2018 book, “Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism: My Journey as a Vaccine Scientist, Pediatrician, and Autism Dad” has made him a target of antivaccine activists and the subject of regular threats and attacks on social media.
His work in vaccine diplomacy has also included serving as U.S. science envoy for the State Department and White House in 2015 and 2016 and working with the National Vaccine Advisory Committee.
“I am thrilled and excited to accept this Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award for a number of reasons, including the recognition of our research team to develop new vaccines for the world's poorest people, but especially for my struggle, often a lonely one, to combat antivaccine disinformation,” said Hotez. “Being recognized by AAAS is particularly important because it says that disinformation has become a dangerous societal force in America, and that combating it is a vital activity for biomedical scientists.”