Public Release: 

AIBS honors outstanding contributions to biology

American Institute of Biological Sciences

Washington, DC. Each year the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) recognizes eminent individuals or groups for outstanding contributions to the biological sciences. The AIBS Board of Directors and Awards Committee are pleased to announce the following award winners for 2009:

  • Distinguished Scientist Award: Joseph Felsenstein, PhD, University of Washington
  • Outstanding Service Award: Robert T. Pennock, PhD, Michigan State University
  • Education Award: Bruce Alberts, PhD, Science magazine, University of California, San Francisco
  • President's Citation Award: Michael Pollan, author In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, University of California, Berkeley
  • Past-President's Award: Rita Colwell, PhD, University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University
  • Media Award: Chip Rowe, Playboy Magazine

Awards will be presented on May 18, 2009, at the AIBS Annual Meeting, "Sustainable Agriculture: Greening the Global Food Supply," during a ceremony to be held at the Westin Arlington Gateway in Arlington, Virginia.

AIBS President Dr. May Berenbaum and Executive Director Dr. Richard O'Grady said in a joint statement: "AIBS is pleased to honor such exceptional and dedicated individuals. Though they are from diverse backgrounds, they have all made significant positive contributions to the field of biology."

Below are brief descriptions of the award winners:

Dr. Joseph Felsenstein will receive the Distinguished Scientist Award. This Award is presented to individuals who have made significant scientific contributions to the biological sciences. Felsenstein is Professor of Genome Sciences and Biology at the University of Washington. He trained at the University of Wisconsin and earned his Ph.D. in the laboratory of Dr. Richard Lewontin at the University of Chicago in 1968. After postdoctoral work in Edinburgh, he began a career at the University of Washington and has been at the university for the past 40 years. He has worked in theoretical population genetics, but is best known for work on statistical inference of phylogenies (evolutionary trees), including likelihood and bootstrap methods and phylogenetic comparative methods. He has also worked on likelihood inference using coalescent trees within species. He is author of PHYLIP, the first widely-distributed package of programs for inferring phylogenies, and the book Inferring Phylogenies. By playing a major role in establishing a rigorous basis for phylogenetic inference, Felsenstein has enhanced the field of systematics, has helped to reestablish a historical perspective as a way of thinking in evolutionary biology, and has helped to provide an evolutionary framework and toolkit to molecular biology and genomics.

Dr. Robert T. Pennock will receive the Outstanding Service Award in recognition of an individual's (or organization's) noteworthy service to the biological sciences. Pennock is Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Michigan State University, where he is on the faculty of the Lyman Briggs College of Science, the Philosophy Department, and the Department of Computer Science, as well as the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences and the Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior graduate program. His research interests include the philosophy of biology and the relationship of epistemic and ethical values in science. He is also the author of Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism and Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives. He testified in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District federal court case that found that intelligent design is no different than creationism and should not be taught in science classes. Pennock serves on numerous advisory boards and committees and is the chair of the Education Committee of the Society for the Study of Evolution and is currently working on a book examining how Darwinian evolution, as an abstract theoretical model, can be applied practically beyond biology.

Dr. Bruce Alberts will receive the AIBS Education Award, presented to an individual (or group) who has made significant contributions to education in the biological sciences, at any level of formal or informal education. Alberts is currently editor-in-chief of the journal Science and is Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). He served two six-year terms as the President of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and chaired the National Research Council. He continues to serve as an ex officio member of the National Academies Teacher Advisory Council, which he initiated. Committed to improving science education, he helped initiate and develop City Science, a program that links UCSF to the improvement of science teaching in San Francisco elementary schools. Alberts was instrumental in developing landmark National Science Education standards that have been implemented in school systems nationwide. He also serves as the co-chair of the InterAcademy Council, a new organization governed by the presidents of 15 national academies of science and established to provide scientific advice to the world. Widely recognized for his work in the fields of biochemistry and molecular biology, Alberts has earned many honors and awards, including 15 honorary degrees. Alberts is one of the original authors of The Molecular Biology of the Cell, considered the field's leading advanced textbook and used widely in U.S. colleges and universities. His most recent text, Essential Cell Biology, is intended to present this subject matter to a wider audience.

Michael Pollan will receive the President's Citation Award for meritorious accomplishments by an individual (or group) in the biological sciences. Pollan is the author, most recently, of In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. His previous book, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006), was named one of the ten best books of 2006 by the New York Times and the Washington Post. It also won the California Book Award, the Northern California Book Award, the James Beard Award for best food writing, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is the author of The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World (2001); A Place of My Own (1997); and Second Nature (1991). A contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, Pollan is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including the James Beard Award for best magazine series in 2003 and the Reuters-I.U.C.N. 2000 Global Award for Environmental Journalism. Pollan served for many years as executive editor of Harper's Magazine and is now the Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC Berkeley. His articles have been anthologized in Best American Science Writing (2004); Best American Essays (1990 and 2003) and the Norton Book of Nature Writing.

Dr. Rita Colwell will receive the Past-President's Award in recognition of her service as President of AIBS. Colwell is a Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Colwell is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and many national and foreign professional societies. Colwell was the 11th Director of the National Science Foundation (1998-2004) and Co-chair of the Committee on Science of the National Science and Technology Council. She is a Past-President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Colwell has received 51 honorary degrees from institutions of higher education and is the recipient of the Order of the Rising Sun, bestowed by the Emperor of Japan, and the 2006 National Medal of Science awarded by the President of the United States. Colwell has been recognized for her work in Antarctica with a mountain named the "Colwell Massif". She has authored/co-authored 17 books, more than 700 scientific publications, and produced the award-winning film, Invisible Seas. Colwell received a B.S. in Bacteriology and an M.S. in Genetics from Purdue University and a Ph.D. in Oceanography from the University of Washington.

Chip Rowe will receive the Media Award which is presented to a journalist for outstanding reporting on biological research in either print or broadcast journalism. He received the award for his story "Sexual Male: The Hard Facts," which was part 5 of a 6-part series in Playboy Magazine on scientists' findings during the past decade relating to male and female sexual development. This segment of the series appeared in the November 2008 issue. Rowe's article was selected by a panel of distinguished scientists and journalists.


For more information about AIBS Award Programs, please visit

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) scientific association dedicated to advancing biological research and education for the welfare of society. Founded in 1947 as a part of the National Academy of Sciences, AIBS became an independent, member-governed organization in the 1950s. Today, with headquarters in Washington, DC, and a staff of approximately 50, AIBS is sustained by a robust membership of some 5,000 biologists and 200 professional societies and scientific organizations; the combined individual membership of the latter exceeds 250,000. AIBS advances its mission through coalition activities in research, education, and publicpolicy; publishing the peer-reviewed journal BioScience and the education website; providing scientific peer review and advisory services to government agencies and other clients; convening meetings; and managing scientific programs.

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