Public Release: 

2008 AAAS Philip Hauge Abelson Prize awarded to Richard A. Meserve

For exceptional service to science and society

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Richard A. Meserve, president of the Carnegie Institution for Science, has been selected to receive the 2008 Philip Hauge Abelson Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in honor of an exemplary career spent advancing and promoting the use of science in the service of the public interest.

In particular, the prize recognizes Meserve's "exceptional contributions to the institutions he has served, to the scientific community at large, and to the general public, both in the United States and abroad," AAAS announced. The prize selection committee praised Meserve's "remarkable career," noting that his lifelong commitment to service, despite an extremely full roster of professional responsibilities, has been "truly extraordinary."

Meserve's remarkable background began with both a law degree from Harvard University (1975) and a Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Stanford University (1976). "Throughout his distinguished career, Richard Meserve used both his scientific and legal expertise to serve society in a variety of meaningful ways," noted Alan I. Leshner, AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of the journal Science. "He is an outstanding role model for the next generation of scientist-citizens."

After completing two clerkships - including one for a U.S. Supreme Court justice - Meserve entered public service as legal counsel to the President's science adviser (1977-1981). During this period, marked by the second Middle East oil embargo and the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, Meserve provided advice to the highest levels of government on a broad array of important energy technology issues.

He later practiced law at Covington & Burling (1981-1999), rising to the status of partner in the firm, where his practice included advice on energy matters, environmental and toxic-tort litigation, nuclear licensing and representation of scientific societies. As one example, he represented the National Academy of Sciences and AAAS in the case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., which helped to establish the standards of admission of scientific testimony.

In 1999, Meserve was nominated by President Clinton and confirmed by the Senate as a member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Upon his confirmation, the president appointed him as chairman of the commission, a role he fulfilled until 2003. His service to the NRC took place as rising energy prices and increasing concern about global climate change, together with improved operational and economic performance of nuclear plants, sparked an interest in renewing the licenses of existing plants, as well as the possibility of licensing new ones. Meserve oversaw the revitalization of the agency, and he initiated a resuscitation of the NRC's Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research. He worked to ensure that the NRC was a tough but fair independent authority, with a sound scientific basis for its actions. Further, in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks, he provided leadership in addressing concerns about the security of the nation's nuclear power plants, and served as a voice of reason for the public, by explaining the security measures employed at the plants.

In 2003, Meserve became president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, now known as the Carnegie Institution for Science, where he has been a tireless advocate for strengthening even further that institution's cutting-edge scientific research, as well as emphasizing its outreach activities.

Throughout his remarkable career, the prize committee noted, "Meserve has found time to serve on, and in several cases to lead a truly extraordinary number of panels, committees and advisory groups." Those roles, too numerous to list, have included service on the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, for which he received the Secretary of Energy Gold Medal in 1999. He also chaired the International Nuclear Safety Group of the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2003. He is a Fellow of AAAS, as well as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society and the Phi Beta Kappa Society. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the International Nuclear Energy Academy.

The Abelson Prize was inspired by Philip Hauge Abelson, who served as long-time senior adviser to AAAS and editor of the association's 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 prize is awarded 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. The Prize was established in 1985 by the AAAS Board of Directors and consists of a plaque and an honorarium of $5,000. The prize will be awarded to Meserve during the 175th AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago, which will take place 12-16 February 2009. The awards ceremony and reception will be held at The Fairmont Chicago on Saturday, 14 February at 5:00 p.m.


The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science ( AAAS was founded in 1848, and serves 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, reaching 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The non-profit AAAS ( is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!,, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.

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