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Columbia Sweeps Mayor's Awards in Science and Technology; Giuliani Will Honor Six Faculty or Alumni on March 6

By Suzanne Trimel

Recognizing vital contributions in science and technology in New York City's success, Mayor Rudy Giuliani on March 6 will honor eight New Yorkers – six of them Columbia University faculty members or alumni -- for breakthrough achievements in physics, medicine, information technology and science writing. At ceremonies at Gracie Mansion, three Columbia faculty members, including a Nobel Prize winning physicist and the scientist who discovered the gene for hair loss, will join three alumni to receive the 2001 Mayor's Awards for Science and Technology.

Horst Stormer, the Nobel Prize winning physicist, and Janet Conrad, also a physicist, will be honored along with Professor Angela Christiano of the College of Physicians and Surgeons; John Noble Wilford, The New York Times science correspondent and Graduate School of Journalism alumnus; Dr. Dominick Purpura, Dean of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and an alumnus of Columbia College, and Gerald Cohen, founder and chief executive officer of Information Builders Inc. and an alumnus of the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. Each honoree will receive a plaque.

The Mayor's science honorees are chosen through a comprehensive process that includes all of the city's scientific, medical and engineering communities. The New York Academy of Sciences administers the review process, and the mayor chooses winners from a list of finalists submitted by the academy.

Professor Steven Kahn, chairman of the Columbia Physics Department, said: ""We are especially pleased to see the accomplishments of Professors Stormer and Conrad recognized by such a broad spectrum of scientists in New York. It brings distinction to our department, and is a good indication ot the cutting-edge contributions being made by our faculty."

Stormer, the 1998 Nobelist in physics who is professor of physics and applied physics, will receive the Mayor's Award for Excellence in Scientific Achievement for his breakthrough research in condensed matter physics. Stormer, born in Frankfurt in 1949, shared the Nobel with physicist Daniel Tsui for discovering the fractional quantum Hall effect in 1982. The phenomenon occurs in a thin sheet of electrons inside a semiconductor, not unlike the electron sheet in a modern-day transitor. His research may eventually help create improved electronic devices such as computer chips or optoelectronic devices such as solid-state lasers. They are of immense technological importance because they will be capable of faster switching speeds and can be used to construct higher-density computer memories than are now possible.

Conrad and Christiano will receive the Young Investigator Awards given to outstanding researchers younger than 40. Conrad, associate professor of physics, is pursuing her research in high-energy physics at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Ill., on whether neutrinos have mass, a yet unproved hypothesis that has already turned the physics world upside down. Neutrinos are invisible and so tiny -- (1 trillion per cubic meter) that almost all of them pass through matter- humans, lead blocks, the Earth -- without hitting anything. They are so pervasive and numerous that overall they would account for a lot of the mass in the universe -- a space the size of an average clothes closet would contain a billion of them. The notion then, that they might have mass has shaken the physics world.

Christiano is an associate professor of dermatology and genetics and development at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Her research is focused on the genetics and biology of hair loss, an interest that developed as a result of her own experience. The compelling story of own inherited hair loss together with her landmark discoveries of the first two genes involved in inherited hair loss have made her a valuable spokeswoman for the issue of female hair loss. She is currently focusing on recent advances in research and treatments for different types of hair loss and also excessive hair growth, two important issues for millions of women.

Purpura, dean at Albert Einstein since 1984 and a 1949 graduate of Columbia, has conducted groundbreaking research in mental retardation that demonstrated the primary involvement of certain structural abnormalities of nerve cells in the brain. He is also widely recognized for his work on the origin of brain waves, developmental neurobiology and the mechanism of epilepsy.

Cohen, who is being honored for advancing computer systems for leading businesses, universities and government agencies worldwide, received a master's degree in operations research in 1962 from Columbia's engineering school. A native of Manhattan, Cohen was a co-founder of Information Builders in 1975. It has grown into the largest software manufacturer in New York City and a leader in web-based business intelligence.

Wilford, a 1962 Journalism School graduate and winner of Pulitzer Prizes in 1984 and 1987, is being honored for excellence in public understanding of science and technology. He has been known to millions of readers of The New York Times for his stories on scientific breakthroughs and space exploration for more than four decades. Specializing in space science and exploration, he has covered all the major space programs and writes extensively on paleontology, archaeology, astronomy and other scientific disciplines. Traveling throughout the world as a reporter, he flew through the eye of a hurricane to get a story on cloud seeding, submerged in research submarines, operated lunar landing and space shuttle simulators, worked with a mapping party on the floor of the Grand Canyon and joined a fossil-hunting expedition in the Gobi Desert.

The other mayor's science honorees are Professor Jill Bargonetti, a biologist at Hunter College, and Georgi Dvali, a physicist at New York University.

The achievements of a Columbia chemist, Louis Brus, are being recognized this year by the American Physical Society. Professor Brus received the society's top prize, the Irving Langmuir Prize in Chemical Physics, for establishing the field of semiconductor nanocrystals, while Conrad also received the society's Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award. Bonnie Fleming, who works under Conrad as a doctoral student at Fermilab, is being recognized by the Association of Women in Science. She will receive the Luise Meyer-Schutzmeister Memorial Award for 2000.

Brus

Christiano

Cohen

Conrad

Fleming

Purpura

Stormer

Wilford

Published: Mar 02, 2001
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002


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