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Biochemist Maxine Frank Singer receives National Medal of Science

June 23, 1992
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The President of the United States recognized Maxine Singer's important contributions to biochemistry and molecular biology, her leadership of the Carnegie Institute and her science education initatives, by awarding her the National Medal of Science “for her outstanding scientific accomplishments and her deep concern for the societal responsibility of the scientist.”

Institution: Carnegie Institution


Maxine Frank Singer, a leading biochemistry researcher and advocate of science education, was awarded the National Medal of Science on June 23, 1992, in recognition of her illustrious career in biochemistry. The award citation noted "her outstanding scientific accomplishments and her deep concern for the societal responsibility of the scientist."

After earning degrees from Swarthmore (1952) and Yale (1957), Singer joined the National Institutes of Health as a postdoctoral fellow, later becoming a staff member. She was appointed chief of the National Cancer Institute's Biochemistry Lab in 1980, a position she held until 1987. In 1988, she became president of the Carnegie Institution, a major national scientific research center based in Washington, DC.

At the Carnegie Institution, Singer created the Carnegie Academy for Science Education, which trains elementary school teachers in science. Reflecting her concern about the lack of women and members of racial minorities in scientific fields, she also created a weekend science school for elementary-age students. Among her other accomplishments at Carnegie was a $50 million capital campaign that financed Carnegie's participation in the building of two giant optical telescopes at the Institution's campus in Chile as well as other capital improvement projects.

Singer's own research interests have ranged widely within biochemistry, but have included significant work on recombinant DNA. Partly as a result of her interest in mammalian DNA, Singer has long taken an active interest in issues of science policy and ethics. Beginning in 1973, she helped to organize a series of conferences that addressed both the promises and the perils of human DNA research. She has also spoken out about U.S. public policy, advocating national investment in the human genome project but cautioning against overspending on biomedical research in space.

Singer has served on the boards of the Whitehead Institute, Johnson & Johnson, Yale, and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. Singer was elected to the National Academy of Science in 1979 and to the Pontifical Academy of Science in 1986. She retired from Carnegie in 2002.

To learn more about Maxine Singer, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

See also: This Week in History for December 31, 2002, "Maxine Frank Singer steps down as head of Carnegie Institution"; Science in Israel.

Sources: carnegieinstitution.org/singer/.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Biochemist Maxine Frank Singer receives National Medal of Science." (Viewed on April 18, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/jun/23/1992/maxine-frank-singer>.