President Obama today named Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Susan Lindquist a recipient of the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest scientific honor bestowed by the United States government on scientists, engineers, and inventors. The White House is also honoring Stephen J. Benkovic of Pennsylvania State University, who is a member of HHMI’s Scientific Review Board.
The National Medal of Science was created by statute in 1959 and is administered for the White House by the National Science Foundation. Awarded annually, the Medal recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science and engineering. Lindquist, Benkovic, and eight other recipients will receive their awards at a White House ceremony later this year.
“The extraordinary accomplishments of these scientists, engineers, and inventors are a testament to American industry and ingenuity,” President Obama said. “Their achievements have redrawn the frontiers of human knowledge while enhancing American prosperity, and it is my tremendous pleasure to honor them for their important contributions.”
Lindquist, who is at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is being honored “for her studies of protein folding, demonstrating that alternative protein conformations and aggregations can have profound and unexpected biological influences, facilitating insights in fields as wide-ranging as human disease, evolution, and biomaterials.”
Lindquist is a Member and former Director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Associate Member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and Associate Member of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.
Her pioneering work in protein folding has demonstrated that alternative protein conformations have profound and unexpected effects in fields as wide ranging as human disease, evolution, and biomaterials. Her work on yeast prions has provided evidence for a mechanism of protein-only inheritance and contributed to a structural understanding of amyloid fiber formation. She has shown that molecular chaperones can influence the expression and evolution of new traits by chaperoning the folding of key players in signal transduction pathways. Her group has also developed yeast models to study protein-folding transitions in neurodegenerative diseases and to test therapeutic strategies.
Benkovic is being honored “for his seminal research that has changed our understanding of how enzymes function, singly or in complexes, and has led to novel pharmaceuticals and biocatalysts.” He is the Evan Pugh Professor and Eberly Chair in Chemistry at Pennsylvania State University.