Birgeneau to receive award for exceptional leadership in science

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UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau will receive an award for exceptional leadership in the scientific community, the American Institute of Physics announced Thursday.

The Karl Taylor Compton Medal for Leadership in Physics, established in 1957, is awarded to one distinguished physicist every four years for his or her leadership as well as scientific contributions. Birgeneau will also receive $10,000 as part of the award.

“I first heard about it almost two months ago,” Birgeneau said. “I was shocked because this is an award that is given rarely, and in the past it has been given to people I’ve admired in science.”

According to Birgeneau, this is the first time a UC Berkeley faculty member has received this honor, the AIP’s most prestigious award.

“Given that I’ve won a number of awards for research and teaching before, this is the first major award for me as a scientist that has honored contributions to the societal aspects of physics,” Birgeneau said. “ It’s a really nice send-off as I return to being a regular professor.”

Aside from his extensive accomplishments in physics research, Birgeneau was noted for his leadership in drawing more women to the sciences and eliminating obstacles for females looking to enter these fields. As part of this effort, he authorized “A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT” while dean of science for the university.

Birgeneau also worked on a report entitled “Beyond Bias and Barriers,” which concluded that universities must undergo reform by “eliminating gender bias in academia,” according to The National Academies Press.

“Bob Birgeneau has been an inspiration to me personally, both as a researcher and as a leader in working towards increasing diversity in science,” said Frances Hellman, chair of the campus department of physics. “He has shown that it is possible to continue doing world-leading research while taking on significant administrative positions.”

However, even with these efforts, the campus still struggles to attract women to science majors. Only 16 women, for example, graduated with an EECS degree from UC Berkeley in 2011, compared with 182 men.

Birgeneau was additionally acknowledged for his efforts to make UC Berkeley more family-friendly for faculty, students and staff, according to a statement from the AIP.

“The list of award winners are highly credentialed, well-known physicists in the U.S.,” said H. Frederick Dylla, executive director and CEO of the AIP. “Not only was he a statesman — he was a world-class physicist. They are both equally important.”

Gladys Rosario covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected].