OSU researcher receives Heinz Award for the Environment


CORVALLIS - Jane Lubchenco, a professor at Oregon State University and one of the nation's leading marine biologists, has received the eighth annual $250,000 Heinz Award for the Environment, recognizing her studies on marine ecosystems and pioneering efforts to bridge the gaps between science and public policy.

Only six Heinz Awards, which are among the largest individual achievement prizes in the world, are given each year to national leaders in selected fields. The use of the funds is unrestricted, but Lubchenco said she plans to use it to support student education and research.

Lubchenco is the Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology at OSU, a past president of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Ecological Society of America, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. She has worked with everyone from political and business leaders to environmental and religious groups, and even the president of the United States, on issues of marine conservation, biodiversity, climate change and other key environmental and scientific issues.

As an internationally recognized scientist, Lubchenco has testified about the impact of human activities on the Earth, its atmosphere, land and oceans. She is also a crusader for the communication of scientific findings to the public and policy makers, so that more people understand the difficult environmental issues the world faces and decision makers are better able to craft important environmental policies that have a solid foundation in science.

"Dr. Jane Lubchenco has been one of the most passionate voices raised in defense of the environment," said Teresa Heinz, chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation that made this award. "Here in the 21st century, as we face the possibility of drastic ecological change for the nation and the world, Dr. Lubchenco's work is more important than ever."

Among other accomplishments, Lubchenco has led efforts to establish marine reserves that preserve ocean habitats, helped encourage aquaculture to become more environmentally sustainable, and championed environmentally responsible energy practices and policies. Her innovative studies on intertidal and nearshore communities revealed both the complexity and fragile nature of marine ecosystems. In the political arena she worked to create more support for interdisciplinary research programs that cut across traditional scientific boundaries, and she has sought major increases in funding for environmental studies through the National Science Foundation.

When she began her tenure as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, perhaps the nation's most prestigious organization of science professionals, Lubchenco called for a "social contract" between scientists and the public.

It was essential, she said, that researchers tackle and help develop solution to the many global environmental problems facing the world. But beyond that, Lubchenco said scientists should communicate their findings more broadly and effectively, moving past the confines of professional conferences and academic journals, and share their knowledge directly with those making decisions about the environment.

Towards that end, Lubchenco co-founded in 1998 the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program, which trains some of the nation's leading scientists in how to communicate more effectively with the general public, government and agency leaders, and even individual citizens. Scientists who have participated in this program, including several from OSU, are now sharing their expertise on such topics as global climate change, infectious diseases, biotechnology, fisheries, agriculture, plant ecology, the greenhouse effect, stream ecosystems, nutrient pollution, sustainability and many other areas.

"It used to be that a scientist who was speaking out in public was criticized and even vilified by his or her colleagues for a variety of reasons," Lubchenco has said. "But many scientists now see what they have to offer the world in terms of better information about a wide variety of environmental topics."

The Heinz Awards are named after U.S. Sen. John Heinz of Pennsylvania, who died in 1991. The first awards were given in 1994, and are made in some of the areas in which Sen. Heinz was most active, including the environment; human condition; public policy; arts and humanities; and technology, the economy and employment.

Lubchenco said she plans to use the award to expand opportunities for talented students to learn about ocean protection and restoration.

"The funds will enable them to have more opportunities to do research, to improve our scientific understanding of ocean ecosystems, and to learn to share this information with diverse groups of people," Lubchenco said. "More and more students are expressing a keen interest in marine conservation and science policy, and the award will enhance the range of opportunities available to them."

Lubchenco, who received her doctorate in 1975 from Harvard University, has been on the OSU faculty since 1976. She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1992, and has received six honorary degrees, the most recent one from Princeton University.