Monday, October 7, 2013

Science awards from the ridiculous to the sublime, 2013 edition

Yet again, I've hit the wall of "I can't be all doom all the time."  To combat burning out from the sense of impeding dread, I'm changing the subject to science awards, just like I did last year at this time.

First, the IgNobel awards were presented last month, but PBS Newshour just posted a video about the ceremony tonight.

Nobel Prize alternative celebrates the funny and unusual

Every year at a gala ceremony in Harvard's Sanders Theater the Ig Nobel prizes are awarded for achievements in science that first make people laugh, then think. Actual Nobel laureates are drafted to present awards to research into subjects like the effects of opera on mouse heart-transplant patients and the phenomenon commonly known as "beer goggles."
My wife and I are both sure that's Paul Krugman wearing the "emergency bra."

That's the ridiculous part.  Follow over the jump for stories about the MacArthur Awards AKA the "genius grants" from campuses on the campaign trail as well as some informed speculation about the winners of the Nobel Awards.

Rutgers University: Rutgers Celebrates Four MacArthur Award Winners
September 25, 2013
Meet the latest Rutgers "genius grant" winners – a public health historian, two alumni and a distinguished guest instructor in the Rutgers-Camden MFA program. The five-year fellowship by the James D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation comes with a $625,000 stipend for use by the recipients without restrictions.


Julie Livingston, professor, Rutgers Department of History

Livingston specializes in African history and in the history of public health. In her most recent book, Improvising Medicine: An African Oncology Ward in an Emerging Cancer Epidemic (Duke University Press, 2012), she describes the struggles of patients, families and hospital staff in a cancer ward in Botswana to come to terms with the disease - and its practical and moral implications - in an environment of limited resources. Her work dramatizes the human stakes and institutional challenges of an epidemic that will shape the future of global health.


Jeffrey Brenner, graduate of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, now part of Rutgers

Brenner, founder and executive director of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, is a primary care physician creating a health care delivery model to meet the medical and social service needs of the most vulnerable citizens in impoverished communities. Determined to improve the lives of the sickest Camden residents, Brenner built a database and geographic mapping of discharge data from all patients at Camden’s hospitals and discovered that very small number of patients consumed a large share of the overall costs of health care and social support. Brenner was an instructor in the RWJMS Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.

Craig Fennie, Ph.D., Physics and Astronomy, 2006, Master's in Physics, 2003

Fennie, who is on the faculty of Cornell, is a materials scientist combining the tools of theoretical physics with those of solid-state chemistry to discover new materials with desirable electrical, magnetic and optical properties. Also a researcher at the Energy Materials Center at Cornell, Fennie looks at designing compounds with optical properties that could improve, for example, the efficiency by which materials capture solar energy.

Distinguished Instructor

Karen Russell, distinguished guest teacher, Rutgers-Camden Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program

Russell, named one of The New Yorker’s top 20 young writers under age 40, was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her debut novel, Swamplandia! Setting much of her work in the Everglades of her native Florida, she depicts in lyrical, energetic prose an enchanting and forbidding landscape and delves into subcultures rarely encountered in contemporary American literature. This fall, Russell leads three MFA sessions at Rutgers–Camden, where she shares some of her favorite works of fiction in a series of wide-ranging literary discussions.
Three of the four were recognized for their work in health and science, while the fourth for her work in culture.  Another institution claimed credit for her, as Columbia University mentioned her in School of Arts Professor Donald Antrim and Two Alumni Named MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellows.
Sept. 25, 2013
With a nod to his “tightly crafted works of fiction and nonfiction,” the MacArthur Foundation today announced that Donald Antrim, associate professor in the Writing Program at the School of the Arts, will be among the 24 “genius” fellows it named for 2013.
Also among the winners were two Columbia alums: writer Karen Russell (SOA’06) and physicist Carl Haber (GSAS’85).
Haber, an experimental physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, is developing new technologies for audio preservation. The MacArthur Foundation notes that he is “poised to revolutionize the preservation of rare, damaged, and deteriorating sound recordings of immense value to our cultural heritage.”
Success has many parents.

Finally, here is the Los Angeles Times with Nobel Prize predictions: Higgs boson, exoplanets could yield winners
Analysts at Thomson Reuters...look for people they call “Citation Laureates” – the scientists who are so expert in their field that their research papers are among those most frequently cited by their peers. And by “most frequently cited,” we’re talking the top 0.1%.

How do they get into that top tier? “Not only do Citation Laureates have stratospheric citation totals, they also typically write multiple high-impact reports, and do so over many years,” writes David Pendlebury, a former Thomson Reuters manager who now consults with the firm on bibliometric analysis.

But that’s just a starting point. The analysts then consider other metrics, such as citations per paper. Those with CPPs that are well above the average for their field get a close look. The candidates who make it this far are then vetted a little more subjectively, as the analysts consider whether the scientists’ work is in a field the Nobel committees are likely to recognize, Pendlebury writes.

The Thomson Reuters team has an impressive track record – since they began making predictions in 2002, they’ve identified 27 people who went on to win a Nobel in a scientific field, including all nine winners in 2011. Looked at another way, the method has led the analysts to predict 15 of the 44 prizes handed out over the last 11 years.

Will they be right again this year? We won’t know until the prizes are announced (the first winners will be named Oct. 7).
Click on the link for the list of likely winners, which features three achievements worthy of recognition per category.  We'll find out starting today if any of the predictions were correct.

Speaking of awards, I started a post mortem on my Emmy Awards predictions, but haven't finished it.  Here's to my getting around to doing so this week.

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