Skip to comments.White House to honor prominent evolutionist
Posted on 05/09/2002 3:18:41 PM PDT by laureldrive
UCI's Ayala wins National Medal of Science
Researcher famous for work in genetics, evolutionary biology.
By GARY ROBBINS
The Orange County Register
May 9, 02
The National Medal of Science the most prestigious award given for lifetime achievement will be bestowed upon a University of California, Irvine, researcher who has done pioneering work in genetics and evolutionary biology, the White House announced today.
Francisco Ayala, 68, is one of 15 scientists and engineers who will receive the medal from President George W. Bush during a ceremony expected to be held in mid-June in Washington, D.C.
Ayala will receive the medal along with such eminent figures as Harold Varmus, the Nobel laureate who formerly headed the National Institutes of Health, and Charles Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, a leader in global warming research.
"Each one of these individuals has helped advance our country's place as a leader in discovery, creativity and technology," President Bush said in a statement. "Their contributions have touched all of our lives and will continue to do so."
Ayala is the second UCI professor to win the National Science Medal. The late Frederick Reines, the "father of neutrino physics", was honored in 1983. A medal also was given to Corona del Mar instrument inventor Arnold O. Beckman in 1989.
Ayala is a former Dominican priest who left the clergy to study evolution and genetics. He achieved fame partly because of his work on the "molecular clock," a field in which scientists can date when some species diverged from a common ancestor. The timing of the clock involves analysis of DNA.
The Spanish-born biologist also is well-known for determining that some organisms have more genetic variation than predicted by sophisticated mathematical models.
Ayala was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1980. A year later, he and famed Harvard scholar Stephen Jay Gould testified for the defense in McLean v. the Arkansas Board of Education, the so-called "balanced-treatment law." A federal judge ruled on behalf of the plaintiff, saying that it was unconstitutional for Arkansas to require teachers to devote equal class time to creationism and evolution.
He joined the UCI faculty in 1987, raising the university's profile in evolutionary science. Fellow biologist Walter Fitch says Ayala's presence was a main reason that he joined the faculty the following year.
More recently, Ayala helped recruit Douglas Wallace, a world-renowned geneticist from Emory University. Irvine recruited Wallace with a $3 million package in February.
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