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The Alan T. Waterman Award, named after Alan Tower Waterman, is the United States's highest honorary award for scientists no older than 40, or no more than 10 years past receipt of their Ph.D. It is awarded on a yearly basis by the National Science Foundation. In addition to the medal, the awardee receives a grant of $1,000,000 to be used at the institution of their choice over a period of five years for advanced scientific research.
History of the Award
Congress established the annual award in August 1975 to mark the 25th Anniversary of the National Science Foundation and to honor its first director, Alan T. Waterman. The annual award recognizes an outstanding young researcher in any field of science or engineering supported by the National Science Foundation.
Eligibility and nomination process
Candidates must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Prior to the 2018 competition, candidates must have been 35 years of age or younger or not more than 7 years beyond receipt of the Ph.D. degree by December 31 of the year in which they are nominated. As of the 2018 competition, these requirements were changed to 40 years of age or 10 years post-PhD. Candidates should have demonstrated exceptional individual achievements in scientific or engineering research of sufficient quality to place them at the forefront of their peers. Criteria include originality, innovation, and significant impact on the field. Potential candidates must be nominated and require four letters of reference, but none can be submitted from the nominee’s home institution. Solicitation announcements are sent to universities and colleges, scientific, engineering and other professional societies and organizations, and members of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.
Award process and committee composition
This section's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (November 2022)
Candidates are reviewed by the Alan T. Waterman Award committee, which is made up of 12 members, 8 rotators and 4 members ex officio. The current ex officio members are Ralph Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Sciences, Subra Suresh, Director of the National Science Foundation, Steven C. Beering, Chairman of the National Science Board, and Charles M. Vest, President of the National Academy of Engineering. After review of the nominees, the committee recommends the most outstanding candidate(s) to the Director of the National Science Foundation and the National Science Board, which then makes the final determination.
List of recipients
"For her outstanding advances in the reconstruction of past climate change and furthering the understanding of future climate change"
"For his foundational research in computational epidemiology, combining mathematics and computation with real-world data to create powerful new models that provide concrete, innovative, and useful answers to globally important questions in the study of epidemic dynamics, including timely research on vaccination and testing strategies for combatting the COVID-19 pandemic."
"For her innovations in rehabilitation engineering and for translating her research on vestibular disorders in primates into engineering-based interventions for individuals with balance, gait and postural impairments.
- Nicholas Carnes
"For his looking into how a person’s social background may influence their decision to pursue public service and what factors would increase their opportunities to serve."
- Melanie Wood
"For her tackling the mysteries and most complex problems in mathematics by looking into the connection of number theory and random matrices."
- Emily Balskus
"For her transformative work that integrates chemistry and microbiology to understand biosynthetic mechanisms and microbial metabolism at the molecular level, with emphasis on enzymatic processes in the human gut microbiome."
- John Dabiri
"For his pioneering research in fluid mechanics, with innovative applications in biology, energy, and the environment. His transformative work, especially as applied to biological flow problems, has led to understanding the principles of marine animal locomotion and their application to other biological and environmental problems."
- Jennifer Dionne
"For developing techniques and tools to image dynamic physical, chemical and biological processes with extremely high resolution. Her research is enabling new knowledge to help solve global challenges in biomedicine, energy and computing."
- Mark Braverman
"For his studies of complexity theory, algorithms and the limits of what's possible computationally."
- Kristina Olson
"For her innovative contributions to understanding children's attitudes toward and identification with social groups, early prosocial behavior, the development of notions of fairness, morality, inequality and the emergence of social biases."
- Baratunde A. Cola
"For pioneering new engineering methods and materials to control light and heat in electronics at the nanoscale."
- John V. Pardon
"For his contributions to geometry and topology, the study of properties of shapes that are unaffected by deformations, such as stretching or twisting and for solving problems that stumped other mathematicians for decades and generating solutions that provide new tools for geometric analysis."
- Mircea Dincă
"For pioneering contributions to the synthesis and understanding of molecular porous solids with unusual electronic properties, especially for creative synthetic design leading to microporous materials with high electrical conductivity and redox activity."
- Andrea Alù
"For his work in metamaterial theory and design, including insightful contributions to plasmonic cloaking; effective light manipulation at the nano scale; innovative ideas in breaking time reversal symmetry leading to enhanced non-reciprocity from acoustics to microwaves and optics; and for unique contributions to metamaterials."
- Feng Zhang
"For development and application of molecular technologies that enable systematic interrogation of intact biological systems through precise genomic manipulation."
- Mung Chiang
"Chiang is an electrical engineering professor of Princeton University who uses innovative mathematical analyses to design simpler and more powerful wireless networks. He is the founder of Princeton's EDGE Laboratory, which aims to connect network theory and real-world applications. By developing methods for analyzing the often complex interaction between different layers of wireless networks, his work creates a principled picture of seemingly chaotic interactions and allows for systematic solutions to previously intractable problems."
"By illuminating the fundamental limits on what can be computed in the physical world, and the potential implications of those limits, Scott Aaronson has staked out important new ground in computational theory", said MIT President Susan Hockfield, "I am delighted that the National Science Foundation has recognized his dual abilities, both to articulate key research questions and to offer new methods and ideas for addressing them, with the Alan T. Waterman Award."
Wood is an associate professor in Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a core faculty member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. He is founder of the Harvard Microrobotics Lab which leverages expertise in microfabrication for the development of biologically-inspired robots with feature sizes on the micrometer to centimeter scale.
- Casey W. Dunn
For his gifted integration of field biology, genomics, and computational science that has led to changing our understanding of the evolutionary tree, integrating morphological and molecular perspectives on diversity, and developing new tools that are revolutionizing biology.
- Subhash Khot
Subhash is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at NYU and is recognized already by many other honors and awards. Subhash is a brilliant theoretical computer scientist and is most well known for his Unique Games Conjecture. He has made many unexpected and original contributions to computational complexity and his work draws connections between optimization, computer science, mathematics.
- David Charbonneau
For his pioneering research into the discovery and characterization of planets orbiting other stars, which has allowed, for the first time, the study of their surface conditions and atmospheres, and has revolutionized interdisciplinary research related to exoplanets.
- Terence Tao
For his surprising and original contributions to many fields of mathematics, including number theory, differential equations, algebra, and harmonic analysis.
- Peidong Yang
For outstanding contributions in the creative synthesis of semiconductor nanowires and their heterostructures, and innovations in nanowire-based photonics, energy conversion, and nanofluidic applications.
- Emmanuel Candes
For his research in computational mathematics and statistical estimation, with applications to signal compression and image processing.
- Dalton Conley
For his contribution to the field of sociology as a research scientist and published author exemplified by his research on how socio-economic status is transmitted across generations. He brings methodological rigor and sophistication to deep social questions.
- Kristi Anseth
For her research at the interface of biology and engineering, resulting in the design of innovative biomaterials that significantly facilitate tissue engineering and regeneration.
- Angelika Amon
For her seminal contributions to understanding how cells orchestrate the segregation of their chromosomes during cell division, the key process of life
- Erich Jarvis
For his use of gene expression as a tool to map brain functional systems and to identify parts of the brain involved in perceiving, learning and producing vocal communication.
- Vahid Tarokh
For the invention of space-time coding techniques that produce dramatic gains in the spectral efficiency of wireless digital communication systems.
- Jennifer A. Doudna
For innovative research that led to the development of a technique that facilitates crystallization of large RNA molecules; for determining the crystal structures of catalytic RNA molecules and an RNA molecule that forms the ribonucleo-protein core of the signal recognition particle; and for deciphering structural features of those molecules that permit a greater understanding of the mechanistic basis of RNA function in both catalysis and protein synthesis.
- Chaitan Khosla
For his outstanding work in elucidating the mechanisms of enzyme biocatalysis of polyketides, thereby opening an exciting potential route to new drug discovery.
For innovative research in transition-metal activation of small molecules, including the discovery of reactions to cleave nitrogen-nitrogen multiple bonds under mild conditions. His revolutionary approach to chemical reactivity has answered key questions and furthered development in catalyst design and nitrogen fixation.
- Eric Allin Cornell
For his leading role in the creation of Bose-Einstein condensation in a gas, and for innovations in the manipulation, trapping and cooling of atoms that led to the realization of this new state of matter.
- Robert M. Waymouth
For his seminal contributions to the design of well-defined organometallic catalysts for the synthesis of novel polymers, including chiral cyclopolymers and stereoblock polyolefins. The development of catalysts which change their structure as they work has established a new paradigm in the synthesis of block-polymers.
- Matthew P.A. Fisher
For his broad and original contributions to the theory of the quantum dynamics of macroscopic systems and quantum phase transitions, specifically his prediction of a vortex glass phase in high temperature superconductors, his studies of the superconductor-insulator transition and is seminal work on quantum transport in Luttinger liquids.
- Gang Tian
For his deep understanding and penetrating insights in the field of complex differential geometry, including his solution of the problem of existence of Kähler-Einstein metrics on complex surfaces, his proof that the moduli space for Kähler-Einstein metrics with zero first Chern class is non-singular, and his proof of the stability of algebraic manifolds by using differential geometric methods.
- Deborah L. Penry
For her innovative applications of chemical engineering principles and chemical-reactor theory in analysis of the process of digestion in marine invertebrates, filling an important gap in existing ecological theory dealing with animals strategies for acquiring energy and nutrients. Her research is important to understanding the cycling of materials in the sea—in particular the global carbon cycle and global climate change cycles.
For his major contributions to the understanding of diffuse interstellar medium and the physics and evolution of neutron star pulsars and x-ray binary stars. For his leading role in the discovery of fast pulsars, a major new phenomenon, and in the development of optical and radio spatial interferometry.
- Herbert Edelsbrunner
For his pioneering research in computational geometry through which he has made fundamental contributions to the theory of computer science and to discrete mathematics.
- Mark E. Davis
For his pioneering work in catalytic materials, catalysis, and reaction engineering, including the first synthesis of a molecular sieve with pores larger than 1 nanometer and the invention of supported aqueous-phase catalysts; each of these accomplishments opens up a new and potentially important area in catalytic science and technology, and also has implications for separations technology and environmental control.
- Richard H. Scheller
For his work leading to the development of recombinant DNA technologies, and for his current research which has illuminated cellular and molecular mechanisms used to regulate animal behavior. These basic studies will lead to a better understanding of the molecular basis of brain function and should, in the future, help in the understanding of major psychiatric illnesses.
- Peter Schultz
For innovative research at the interface of chemistry and biology, both in the development of new approaches for the study of molecular recognition and catalysis and in the application of these studies to the design of selective biological catalysts.
- Lawrence H. Summers
For outstanding contributions to economic research on unemployment, taxation of capital, savings behavior and macroeconomic activity. His work combines powerful analytic insights and imaginative econometric methods aimed at subjects of fundamental National importance.
- Edward Witten
For path-opening contributions to the physics of elementary particles and gravity, to the search unification, and to the imaginative pursuit of the implications for cosmology.
- Jacqueline Barton
For her imaginative and significant work in bioinorganic chemistry. Her use of small inorganic molecules to recognize and modify DNA sites in very specific ways has led to two major discoveries—enantiomeric selectivity in binding t DNA helices of different handedness, and Z-DNA "punctuation" at the end of genes—with important implications for drug design and for the theory of gene expression.
- Harvey Friedman
For his revitalization of the foundations of mathematics, his penetrating investigations into the Godel incompleteness phenomena, and his fundamental contributions to virtually all areas of mathematical logic.
For his contributions to our understanding of the development of the nervous system. His imaginative choice of model systems and modern technologies are enabling him to discover how individual nerve cells acquire their unique identities and interact with the appropriate cells during embryogenesis.
- Richard Axel
For devising a novel procedure for introducing virtually any gene into mammalian cells. Gene transfer now permits the analysis of the mechanisms regulating the expression of genes in an appropriate cellular environment. This information is prerequisite to a rational approach towards gene therapy.
- W. Clark Still
For showing that fundamental conformational principles can be used in organic synthesis to describe nonrigid molecular arrays and for the design of chemical reactions which use such arrays to control the three-dimensional structure of flexible molecules.
- Roy Schwitters
For his contributions to the understanding of the basic structure of matter through experiments that discovered and explored an entirely new collection of subatomic particles. The experiments led to the interpretation of the new particles as being composed of simpler constituents, possessing a new property of matter.
- William Thurston
In recognition of his achievements in introducing revolutionary new geometrical methods in the theory of foliations, function theory and topology.
- Richard A. Muller
For his original and innovative research, which has led to important discoveries and inventions in diverse areas of physics, including astrophysics, radioisotope dating and optics.
- J. William Schopf
For his outstanding research on Precambrian biotas. His work on these delicate and ancient fossil microorganisms will contribute significantly to the knowledge of the origin of life and the evolution of the earliest known biotas of the world.
- Charles Fefferman
For his research in Fourier analysis, partial differential equations and several complex variables which have brought fresh insight and renewed vigor to classical areas of mathematics and contributed signally to the advancement of modern mathematical analysis.
- "US NSF – Office of the Director – Alan T. Waterman Award". www.nsf.gov. Retrieved 13 December 2021.
- "NSF recognizes 3 scientists with the Alan T. Waterman Award". www.nsf.gov. Retrieved 2022-04-22.
- "The National Science Foundation Names Electrical Engineering Researcher Mung Chiang its Alan T. Waterman Awardee for 2013". www.nsf.gov. Retrieved 13 December 2021.
- "NSF Honors Two Early Career Researchers With Alan T. Waterman Award". www.nsf.gov. Retrieved 2020-08-25.