Public Release: 

AIBS recognizes 2010 awardees during Washington, D.C., event

LTER Network and Dartmouth, Duke and Yale biologists to be recognized for contributions to science, education

American Institute of Biological Sciences

Washington, DC - The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) will recognize excellence in science and science education during an awards ceremony and lecture at the National Academies' Keck Center in Washington, DC, on May 18, 2010, from 6:00-9:00 PM (pre-registration required).

Each year, AIBS recognizes scientists, educators, and organizations for their leadership and contributions to science and education. Award categories are: Distinguished Scientist, Outstanding Service, Education, and the President's Citation. Nominations for the various AIBS awards are reviewed and approved by the AIBS Awards Committee and Board of Directors.

"This year's awards program is quite impressive. We will recognize outstanding individuals and organizations for their contributions to science," said AIBS President Dr. Joseph Travis.

In addition to the presentation of the annual AIBS awards, the program includes a lecture by Dr. Michael Ruse, Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University. "Dr. Ruse is recognized as a leading contributor to the intellectual underpinnings of evolutionary biology and the history and philosophy of biology. His talk, 'Is Darwinism Past Its Sell-By Date?' promises to be quite thought provoking," said AIBS Executive Director Dr. Richard O'Grady.

The Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network will receive the 2010 AIBS Distinguished Scientist Award, which is presented annually for significant scientific contributions to the biological sciences.

The LTER program concentrates on ecological processes that play out at time scales spanning decades to centuries. Long-term data sets from LTER provide a context to evaluate the nature and pace of ecological change, to interpret its effects, and to forecast the range of future biological responses to change.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) instituted the LTER program with a call for proposals in 1980 that resulted in the selection of six sites. The program has matured steadily, adding sites and shifting focus from individual site research to a broader synthetic view aimed at identifying general ecological principles that apply to many ecosystems at many different scales. In 2006, LTER formalized its governance structure with the establishment of a Science Council of all site principal investigators to plan and develop network-level science while a smaller Executive Board focuses on management issues of the network.

At each of the LTER Network's 26 sites there is an extraordinary amount of knowledge about the organisms and ecological processes at the site, about the way the site's ecosystems respond to disturbance, and about long-term environmental change. A growing number of cross-site observations and experiments also have revealed much about the way that key processes, organisms, and ecological attributes are organized and behave across major environmental gradients.

Accepting the Distinguished Scientist Award on behalf of the LTER Network will be Dr. G. Philip Robertson, Professor of Ecosystem Science in the Department of Crop and Soil Science at Michigan State University and Chairman of the LTER Network. Robertson is also the Principal Investigator for the Kellogg Biological Station LTER site in Michigan.

Upon learning of the award, Robertson said: "We are both grateful for and humbled by this high honor, which recognizes the collective contributions of several thousand Network scientists working to advance ecological knowledge in ecosystems facing unprecedented environmental change."

Duke University Professor of Biology Dr. Kathleen K. Smith will receive the 2010 AIBS Outstanding Service Award in recognition of her leadership as former Director of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). The Center is a collaborative effort of Duke University, North Carolina State University, and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Founded in 2004 with a grant from the National Science Foundation, NESCent has established itself as an international Center for collaborative, cross-disciplinary research in evolution. In its first five years, the Center hosted more than 3000 visitors from nearly 35 countries. NESCent plays an active role in developing cyberinfrastructure for the scientific community, with a focus on open source software, database development, and analytical tools in evolutionary biology. The Center also works to improve evolution education, expand opportunities for underrepresented groups, and communicate research to the general public.

NESCent is a leader in the field of synthetic research. Synthetic research in evolutionary science takes many forms but includes integrating novel datasets and models to address important problems within a discipline, developing new analytical approaches and tools, and combining methods and perspectives from multiple disciplines to answer and create new scientific questions.

"I was surprised and honored to receive this award. The achievements of NESCent over the past five years have been a team effort, and really reflect the work of many. I have been delighted to be able to work with the outstanding scientists and staff at NESCent, the Associate Directors, and the National Science Foundation during NESCent's youth and early growth. I'm very pleased to be able to share this award with all who have been involved." said Smith.

Smith is an active scientist conducting research on vertebrate evolution, evolutionary morphology, and the relationship between evolution and development. In recent years her work has concentrated on the developmental and evolutionary consequences of the marsupial reproductive pattern, with a focus on craniofacial development in marsupial and placental mammals. Smith received her BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz and her Ph.D. in Biology from Harvard University.

The 2010 AIBS Education Award will be presented to Dr. Jo Handelsman of Yale University. Handelsman is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. The Education Award is presented annually to individuals or groups who have made significant contributions to education in the biological sciences at any level of formal or informal education.

Prior to joining Yale earlier this year, Handelsman spent 25 years on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she earned her Ph.D. in 1984. Handelsman is nationally recognized for her efforts to improve science education and increase the participation of women and other underrepresented groups in science at the university level.

While at the University of Wisconsin, she served as Director of the Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching. This program works to enhance undergraduate biology education by training a new generation of scientific teachers, namely faculty and instructors who bring the rigor and spirit of science research to teaching.

Handelsman is a co-chair of the National Academies' Summer Institute program, which is a week-long program that works with university faculty to help them review their teaching practices and receive resources that will help them develop successful new teaching strategies.

She also co-founded the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute at the University of Wisconsin. The Institute has designed and evaluated interventions intended to enhance the participation of women in science. Her leadership in this effort led to an appointment as the first President of the Rosalind Franklin Society and to service on the National Academies' panel that wrote the 2006 report, "Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering."

In addition to her achievements in science education, Handelsman is helping to press forward the frontiers of science through her research program. Her research focuses on the genetic and functional diversity of microorganisms in soil and insect guts. She is one of the pioneers of functional metagenomics, an approach to accessing the genetic potential of unculturable bacteria in environmental samples.

Handelsman said she was humbled to learn that she had been selected to receive the AIBS Education Award because of the "giants who have received the award in the past. Gosh, I didn't realize that anyone noticed what we do. This is good news for the scientific teaching revolution."

The 2010 AIBS President's Citation will be presented to Dr. Mark A. McPeek, the David T. McLaughlin Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences at Dartmouth College. The President's Citation recognizes meritorious accomplishments by an individual or group in the biological sciences.

McPeek's research integrates empirical and theoretical studies of the ecological processes that structure biological communities and how some ecological processes have shaped the adaptation and diversification of the organisms that constitute these communities.

"Mark epitomizes the well-rounded biologist. His work on adaptation and ecology in damselflies integrates work in community ecology, population biology, molecular phylogenetics, biochemistry and physiology, behavioral ecology, and mathematical theory. From developing methods for comparative analyses to performing demanding field experiments, Mark has integrated discoveries in different areas to reconstruct one of the most compelling of our modern case studies of adaptation in the whole organism," said Travis.

McPeek was "tremendously surprised and honored" to learn that he had been selected to receive the President's Citation. "Working across disciplinary boundaries is now more important than ever, and I hope this will encourage many others to push more aggressively across those boundaries," said McPeek.

McPeek received his Ph.D. from Michigan State University for research in community ecology and evolution conducted at the Kellogg Biological Field Station in Michigan. He received his BS and MS degrees from the University of Kentucky.

McPeek currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of the scientific journal, American Naturalist, a publication of the American Society of Naturalists. The American Society of Naturalists is a professional scientific society dedicated to advancing and disseminating knowledge of organic evolution and other broad biological principles so as to enhance the conceptual unification of the biological sciences.


About AIBS:

The American Institute of Biological Sciences 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. Headquartered in Washington, DC, with a staff of approximately 50, AIBS is sustained by a robust membership of some 5,000 biologists and nearly 200 professional societies and scientific organizations; the combined individual membership of the latter exceeds 250,000. AIBS advances its mission through participating in coalition activities in research, education, and public policy; publishing the peer-reviewed journal BioScience and the education Web site; providing scientific peer-review and advisory services to government agencies and other clients; convening meetings; and managing scientific programs. For more information, visit

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