Header NAS Award for Scientific Discovery

Header NAS Award for Scientific Discovery

About the NAS Award for Scientific Discovery

The NAS Award for Scientific Discovery is presented every two years to recognize an accomplishment or discovery in basic research, achieved within the previous five years, that is expected to have a significant impact on one or more of the following fields: astronomy, biochemistry, biophysics, chemistry, materials science, or physics through the selection of recipients of the Award. The Awards will rotate among these fields as determined by the NAS Council. To be eligible for an Award, a candidate must be a scientist at a university, college, or other research institution within the United States. Endowed in 2014 in honor of John P. Schaefer through a gift (Press Release) from Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) and the Frederick Gardner Cottrell Foundation. This award is presented with a medal, a $50,000 cash prize, and $50,000 to support the recipient’s research.

Most Recent Recipients

Gabriela González, David H. Reitze, and Peter R. Saulson will receive the 2017 NAS Award for Scientific Discovery. Saulson served as the first elected spokesperson for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Scientific Collaboration (LSC), filling a role first established by physics pioneer and LIGO co-founder Rainer “Rai” Weiss. Reitze and González succeeded him in this effort, which involves the work of 90 institutions and more than 1,000 researchers around the globe. Since its establishment in 1997, the LSC spokesperson has led the organization that established and carried out the scientific program of LIGO.

The efforts of their combined 19 years of leadership paid off, when the LSC announced that it had observed the gravitational waves from two colliding black holes, a collision that caused ripples in spacetime that could be measured on Earth. The observation, hailed as one of the most important scientific discoveries of 2015, proved the existence and properties of gravitational waves first predicted by Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity a century earlier and capped a 60-year experimental quest involving thousands of researchers from around the world. More importantly, the detection of gravitational waves passing through Earth on September 14, 2015, and then again on December 26, 2015, started a new field of gravitational wave astronomy. Read more about their work

Award History

The inaugural NAS Award for Scientific Discovery was presented in 2015 to Jonathan S. Weissman, investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and professor in the department of cellular and molecular pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco, in the field of chemistry, biochemistry, or biophysics. In 2009, Weissman and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, developed a technique called ribosome profiling. With this technique, researchers can sequence the chunks of messenger RNA (mRNA) that ribosomes are decoding, giving a snapshot of the genes being translated within a cell. First applied to yeast, ribosome profiling has been since been extended to many other organisms, including humans. It has been used to identify new proteins and peptides, investigate the process of translation, measure gene expression in cells and determine rates of protein synthesis. In addition, Weissman and his team have employed ribosome profiling to make important insights into the critical role that protein synthesis plays in cell growth and differentiation.


Gabriela González, David H. Reitze, and Peter R. Saulson (2017)
For outstanding leadership of the large international LIGO Scientific Collaboration, bringing together all of the necessary elements (the instruments, data analysis, general relativity and astrophysics) for the first direct detection of gravitational waves.
Read more about their work 

Jonathan S. Weissman (2015)
For his 2009 development of ribosome profiling, a powerful technique that makes possible genome-wide analysis of protein synthesis in living cells at high resolution, and its subsequent use to reveal many unanticipated, critical molecular insights concerning the process whereby RNA sequences are translated into protein sequences.
Read more about Weissman's work 

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