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Five Columbia Professors Win Mayor's Science and Technology Awards

By Suzanne Trimel

Brian Greene

Recognizing the achievements of scientists and engineers in the success of New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg will present the 2002 Mayor's Awards for Excellence in Science and Technology on Thursday, June 13, to five Columbia professors for their breakthrough research in neurobiology, applied mathematics, biochemistry and physics. The Columbia winners were honored in four of five categories and captured more awards than any other institution in the city for a second straight year.

Professor Brian Greene, a leading physicist in super-string theory and best-selling author of "The Elegant Universe," is being honored for his impact on the public's understanding of science through his acclaimed book and outreach to society that have increased awareness of the development of super-string theory, which has the potential of realizing Einstein's long sought dream of a single, all encompassing theory of the universe.

Thomas Jessell

Professor Thomas Jessell, the renowned neurobiologist who studies the molecular mechanisms that control the early development of the vertebrate nervous system, won in the biological and medical sciences category and Professor Joel Cohen of the Columbia Earth Institute and the School of International and Public Affairs, who studies human and non-human populations, won in the mathematical, physical and engineering category.

Professors Rafael Yuste, a neurobiologist, and Anna Marie Pyle, a biochemist, are winners in the Young Investigator category, which recognizes outstanding researchers younger than 40.

Rafael Yuste

The honorees are chosen through a comprehensive process that includes all of the city's scientific, medical and engineering communities. The New York Academy of Science administers the review process, and the mayor chooses winners from a list of finalists submitted by the academy. The awards ceremony will take place on June 13 at the New York Hall of Science.

Greene was nominated jointly by Professor Steve Kahn, chairman of the Physics Department, and Robert Friedman, chair of the Mathematics Department, who cited the "marvelously accessible popularization" of super-string theory in "The Elegant Universe."

Described by The New York Times as having "a depth and clarity one would not have thought possible," the book enjoyed a six-month run on the Times best-seller list, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and is the subject of a NOVA special to be hosted by Greene and now in production. Greene has made numerous television appearances on major programs and given more than 100 radio interviews.

Jessell is an internationally recognized researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Columbia's Center for Neurobiology and Behavior on the health sciences campus. His research on the developing vertebrate brain has taken this investigation from mere description to an understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of the nervous system development. Jessell's work on the spinal cord has provided insight into a variety of congenital birth defects and provides a foundation for future medical applications.

Joel Cohen

Cohen, who earned doctorates in applied mathematics and population sciences and tropical public health from Harvard, has been professor of populations and head of the Laboratory of Populations at the Rockefeller University, New York, since 1975. He is also a faculty member in earth and environmental science, conservation and applied probability at Columbia. His applied mathematics research focuses on demography, ecology, epidemiology and the social organization of human and non-human population. He is the author of the critically acclaimed 1995 book, "How Many People Can the Earth Support?" His work enhances our understanding of population growth, disease transmission and control and the nature and progress of ecological systems.

Anna Marie Pyle

Pyle has made major contributions to the field of nucleic acid chemistry and our understanding of the structure and function of the various forms of DNA and RNA, in particular ribozymes, a catalytic form of RNA. Her research on ribozymes has earned major support from the National Science Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

A native of Madrid, Yuste trained as an MD, then received his Ph.D. in neurobiology at Rockefeller University. Following postdoctoral research at Bell Labs, he joined the Columbia faculty over six years ago. Yuste's research has focused on understanding the function of the cerebral cortex, the primary site of mental functions like perception, memory, control of voluntary movements, imagination, language and music. Yuste and his team discovered that the cortex in mice is composed of circuit elements, which appear to repeat exactly in different animals. He has pioneered the study of the biophysics of neurons and their most elementary functional units, the dendritic spines.

The other four honorees are Kenneth Perlin, computer scientist of the Courant Institute; Eugene Fasullo, former chief structural engineer and director of engineering for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and now professor at Polytechnic University; Martin Weiss, a biochemist and science director of the New York Hall of Science and Ramzi Khuri, a physicist of Baruch College.

Mayor Bloomberg presents neurobiologist Thomas Jessell with an award.

Mayor Bloomberg congratulates Joel Cohen for his accomplishments in the mathematical, physical and engineering category.

Mayor Bloomberg poses with biochemist and Young Investigator winner Anna Marie Pyle.

Mayor Bloomberg presents Rafael Yuste with a Young Investigator Award. Physicist Brian Greene (not pictured in this series) was unable to attend the awards ceremony.

Published: Jun 12, 2002
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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