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Washington, DC – The National Academy of Sciences has awarded Carnegie president emerita Maxine F. Singer the Public Welfare Medal, the academy’s most prestigious honor, for her inspired leadership in science and its application to education and public policy. Each year the academy awards the medal in recognition of an individual’s extraordinary commitment to the use of science for public good.

“Maxine has a sterling record of leadership in the scientific community, and embodies the concept of citizen-scientist in every endeavor she undertakes,” said current Carnegie president Richard A. Meserve. “She has strengthened Carnegie’s legacy, as well as that of every institution with which she has been affiliated, through her tireless dedication to advancing science for the good of humankind. We are truly pleased to offer her our congratulations on this momentous occasion.”

Singer is a pioneer of molecular biology and an accomplished leader in science policy. She has championed the cause of women and minorities in science by fostering equal access to education and career opportunities, and has worked tirelessly to improve science education.

As president of the Carnegie Institution from 1988 to 2002, Singer reinforced the institution’s position of preeminence among U.S. scientific organizations through innovative programs and initiatives. Highlights of her tenure include spearheading the Magellan Project, which culminated in the construction of the twin Magellan telescopes at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in La Serena, Chile, and the development of the Department of Global Ecology, the institution’s first new department in decades.

While at Carnegie, Singer’s personal concern for education in the nation’s capital led her to establish the Carnegie Academy for Science Education (CASE), a program for D.C. K-12 teachers. CASE works to increase teachers’ knowledge of science, while providing them with new methods to teach their students about science. In 1989, she introduced Carnegie’s “First Light” project, an imaginative Saturday science school for D.C. public school students. Both programs continue to this day.

Singer has spoken out authoritatively on the issue of genetic manipulation in research and biomedical applications. She was among the first to publicly raise the issue of recombinant DNA’s potential risks, and advocated for self regulation in the scientific community. She co-organized the pioneering Asilomar Conference in 1975, which was attended by 140 high-profile biologists, physicians, lawyers, and members of the press. Asilomar established a framework for the conduct of recombinant DNA research, and cleared the way for the gradual relaxation of restrictions as understanding progressed. Singer was one of five signers of the summary statement.

As chair of the National Research Council’s Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, Singer addressed graduate education, postdoctoral scholarship, the plight of women in science, and scientific conduct. Under her leadership, the committee has had a major effect on science policy, producing influential reports including Scientific and Medical Aspects of Human Reproductive Cloning and Enhancing the Post-Doctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers. The latter resulted in a long-overdue empowerment of postdoctoral fellows on university campuses, along with changes to federal policies.

"Dr. Singer represents the best aspects of scientific citizenship,” said Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences. “Today the Academy officially recognizes her dedication and accomplishments in public service."

Maxine Singer was born in 1931 in New York City. A product of the city’s public schools, she graduated from Swarthmore College in 1952 (A.B., with high honors in chemistry) and Yale University (Ph.D., biochemistry, 1957). From 1975 to 1990 she served as a Fellow (Trustee) of the Yale Corporation. She is the recipient of many honors, including the National Medal of Science in recognition of her “deep concern for the societal responsibility of the scientist.”

Singer will receive the Public Welfare Medal in a ceremony on Sunday, April 29, at the Academy’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Previous recipients of the medal include former Carnegie Institution presidents Vannevar Bush and Philip Abelson.

This release is adapted from a release issued by the National Academy of Sciences. The original release can be found here:

The Carnegie Institution of Washington (, a private nonprofit organization, has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research since 1902. It has six research departments: the Geophysical Laboratory and the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, both located in Washington, D.C.; The Observatories, in Pasadena, California, and Chile; the Department of Plant Biology and the Department of Global Ecology, in Stanford, California; and the Department of Embryology, in Baltimore, Maryland.