Skip to main content
Jane Lubchenco standing outside

Marine ecologist receives top National Academy of Sciences honor

By Steve Lundeberg

Jane Lubchenco, professor in integrative biology

The National Academy of Sciences is honoring our own marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco with its most prestigious award, the Public Welfare Medal. Lubchenco is a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology.

The academy has annually presented the award, which recognizes distinguished contributions in the application of science to the public good, since 1914. The medal honors individuals “who have worked tirelessly to promote science for the benefit of humanity.”

“It’s an incredible honor, especially since it comes at a time in history when it’s more important than ever for scientists to engage with the public in meaningful ways and demonstrate how our work improves people’s lives,” Lubchenco said. “And I’m humbled at having my name join the list of amazing individuals who’ve received this tremendous award.”

Past winners include Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill and Melinda Gates, Carl Sagan, Alan Alda, C. Everett Koop, David Packard, Jimmy Doolittle, Herbert Hoover and Gifford Pinchot.

The academy is honoring Lubchenco, university distinguished professor and advisor in marine studies in the OSU College of Science, for “successful efforts in bringing together the larger research community, its sponsors and the public policy community to focus on urgent issues related to global environmental change.”

“Jane Lubchenco is not only an eminent scientist in her own right but also a passionate advocate for science who has dedicated her career to public service,” said Susan Wessler, home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the selection committee for the award.

“In doing so, she has inspired and encouraged countless other researchers to follow in her footsteps.”

The former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the first woman to serve in that role, Lubchenco just completed a two-year term as the first U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean. An internationally recognized expert on marine ecology, environmental science and climate change, she is one of the world’s most highly cited ecologists and has received numerous honors, including a MacArthur “genius” award.

At NOAA from 2009 to 2013, Lubchenco focused on restoring oceans to a healthy state, returning fisheries to sustainability and profitability, strengthening science and scientific integrity, ensuring continuity of weather and other environmental satellites, and delivering climate science information and services.

She led NOAA’s response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and advised President Obama on the federal government’s response to that and other disasters, including the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011.

“Jane Lubchenco is my hero,” said National Academy of Sciences President Marcia McNutt. “She does it all. She begins by providing the fundamental science that is the beacon for a better way to manage our ocean resources for the benefit of present and future generations.

"Then she steps forward to put knowledge into action through leadership both nationally and internationally, adds McNutt. "We couldn’t be more pleased to present her with our highest award.”

Lubchenco will be presented with the medal April 30 in Washington, D.C., during the academy’s 154th annual meeting.

The National Academy of Sciences, of which Lubchenco has been a member since 1996, is a private nonprofit established under a congressional charter signed by President Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science and provides science, engineering and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

“I cannot think of a better person to receive this than Jane,” said Sastry Pantula, dean of the Oregon State University College of Science. “She is a jewel in OSU's crown. She is not only a tireless ambassador for developing science-based policies, but also committed to the vision of having healthy people, living on a healthy planet, in a healthy economy.”