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06/10/1996 07:00:00

Caltech Biologist Receives National Medal of Science

PASADENA—Norman Davidson, the Norman Chandler Professor of Chemical Biology, Emeritus, at Caltech, will receive the 1996 National Medal of Science from President Bill Clinton at a White House ceremony later this summer.

In a statement released today, the White House announced the names of this year's eight winners of the National Medal of Science, which is awarded periodically in special recognition of outstanding scientific contributions. Davidson is the twentieth member of the Caltech faculty to be honored with this award.

"The recipients of these prestigious medals are the nation's champions of research and innovation," President Clinton said in the statement. "For their leadership and originality, we honor them with America's version of the Nobel Prize."

In his research, Davidson created innovative methods to bridge the gap between the physical and biological sciences. He pioneered new methods in physical chemistry, specifically for the study of fast reactions behind shock waves and by flash photolysis. Later, he developed new techniques, including electron microscopy, for genetic mapping and for exploring the informational properties of DNA and RNA. In his current research, Davidson is working on creating methods for studying electrical signalling in the nervous system and the ways in which it changes during learning and the formation of memories.

"I'm proud and delighted about the recognition of my work that the award implies," Davidson said upon hearing the news. "I always feel that a great deal of my success is due to the creative scientific environment provided by Caltech. Science is nourished here at the Institute and this award is, in large part, a credit to the university."

Caltech's President Thomas E. Everhart noted that "Norman Davidson's work is not only very deep, but broad. He is a scientist's scientist, always working towards the betterment of science. I am pleased that he has been recognized for his tremendous contributions to chemistry and biology."

Davidson received his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1941. He came to Caltech in 1946 as an instructor in chemistry, became a full professor in 1957, and was appointed Chandler Professor in 1982. In 1989, he served as interim chair for the Division of Biology, and is currently serving as one of its executive officers. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Davidson was a Rhodes Scholar in 1938, was California Scientist of the Year in 1980, and was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984. He was awarded the Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry in 1989, and received an honorary degree from the University of Chicago in 1992.

Written by John Avery