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UC Berkeley physicist Marvin Cohen and chemist Gabor Somorjai awarded prestigious National Medal of Science
09 May 2002

By Robert Sanders, Media Relations

Profiles: Marvin Cohen | Gabor Somorjai

Berkeley - A physicist and a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, are among 15 recipients of the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest award for lifetime achievement in scientific research. The White House made the announcement today (Thursday, May 9) in Washington, D.C.

 

Marvin Cohen

Physicist Marvin Cohen
Photo Credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

  Gabor Somorjai

Chemist Gabor Somorjai
Photo Credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Theoretical physicist Marvin L. Cohen and surface chemist Gabor A. Somorjai - both of them scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory - will receive the medal at a White House ceremony on June 13.

"Each one of these individuals has helped advance our country's place ... as a leader in discovery, creativity and technology," said President George W. Bush. "Their contributions have touched all of our lives and will continue to do so."

"The National Medal of Science is one of the highest honors that American scientists can receive, for it honors not only their lasting contribution to science, but also their great service to this nation," said Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl. "We are extraordinarily proud to claim these exemplary scientists as faculty members at UC Berkeley."

UC Berkeley scientists have received 25 of the medals since Congress created the award in 1959.

"This is really an award for Berkeley - the campus and the lab," said Cohen, 67, professor of physics, who has been a member of the faculty since 1964. "I've had numerous students and post-docs, and they certainly share in this award, too."

"I'm very grateful," said Somorjai, who came to this country at the age of 21 after the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and enrolled in graduate school at UC Berkeley. "In 45 years, a lot has happened that was very constructive and positive, and I am absolutely delighted and honored that the country appreciated that and rewards me with this medal.

"The University of California has been very good to me, too, and I am just very happy that I could give back by creating new science and educating new generations of scientists in the process."

Somorjai, 67, who also joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1964, is considered by his peers to be the father of modern surface chemistry, having discovered many of the details of how chemical reactions occur at the surface of solid materials. These discoveries have had a major impact on many fields, including the semiconductor industry, petrochemical companies that use catalysts, and more recently, various fields of biology.

Cohen, a native of Quebec who moved to San Francisco at the age of 12 and graduated from UC Berkeley in 1957, is known widely for the theoretical model he developed to describe how materials are put together on the atomic level. This model is used worldwide to calculate the properties of materials ranging from metals and semiconductors to superconductors, and has had a major impact on the semiconductor industry and the emerging field of nanoscience.

Both Cohen and Somorjai are members of the National Academy of Sciences and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Both also are University Professors, an honor accorded to only two dozen faculty members within the 10-campus University of California system.

Of the 14 scientists and one engineer named today by President George W. Bush, five are faculty members at the University of California. Francisco J. Ayala of UC Irvine was honored for work that revolutionized molecular biology in the study of the origin of species. Charles D. Keeling of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, which is affiliated with UC San Diego, pioneered studies on the impact of the carbon cycle to changes in climate, collecting some of the most important data in the study of global climate change.

Harold Eliot Varmus, professor of microbiology & immunology at UC San Francisco and currently president and chief executive of the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, conducted research at UCSF that earned him the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1989. With current UCSF Chancellor J. Michael Bishop, he showed that normal human and animal cells contain genes capable of becoming cancer genes, a discovery that led to an aggressive and successful search for genetic origins of cancer.

"Their contributions to the world around us are enormous. Their ideas have led to major breakthroughs in human health and the tools evolving from their research have put the U.S. in the forefront of many new industries," National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Rita Colwell said of the new medalists. "We are proud of these extraordinary people - and grateful for their unceasing inquisitiveness, creativity and dedication to obtain new knowledge for the good of all humankind."

The NSF administers the National Medal of Science for the White House.

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