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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Centennial Medalists

6.5.08

Susan Lindquist, PhD ‘77, cellular and developmental biology

Susan Lindquist has said that biology is in the midst of the “greatest intellectual revolution”; and she ought to know, since she has been one of the leaders of that revolution.

Through her groundbreaking work on the problems of protein-folding and inquiries into the medical uses of yeast cells, Professor Lindquist has given the world new insights into the nature of devastating neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. As one observer has said, “It is only because of her outstanding research that we understand today many human and animal diseases such as mad cow disease. If one day these severe diseases can be cured, Susan’s research will have been a crucial contributing factor.”

Susan Lindquist grew up in Chicago and, as a young woman, was instinctively drawn to the big questions of science. At the time, however, female role models in the field were so few that she assumed she might become a nurse. She later considered medical school, but her undergraduate advisor at the University of Illinois exposed her to the excitement of working in a lab.

At Harvard, Susan Lindquist studied with Matthew Meselson and others in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Department. After receiving her PhD in 1977 with a dissertation on protein and RNA synthesis, she went on to a postdoctoral fellowship funded by the American Cancer Society at the University of Chicago, where she eventually joined the biology faculty, becoming a full professor by 1988. That same year, she was also named an Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

In 1997, she was elected to both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences.

In 2000, now the Albert D. Lasker Professor of Medical Sciences at the University of Chicago, Professor Lindquist received the Novartis-Drew Award in Biomedical Research. The award goes to scientists whose work extends biomedical knowledge into new areas and provides intellectual stimulus for students, teachers, and researchers.

That is precisely what Susan Lindquist continued to do – in a profound way when, in 2001, she became the third director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at MIT. In so doing, she succeeded Nobel laureate David Baltimore and yeast genetics pioneer Gerald Fink, who has said, “Sue is a brilliant scientist …. Her rare mix of intelligence, vision, and concern for others makes her a natural leader for charting new territories in biomedical research.”

Professor Lindquist’s work in her labs at MIT led to immediate recognition. In 2002, she won the Dickson Prize in Medicine, awarded annually to a leading American scientist engaged in innovative, paradigm-shifting biomedical research.

That same year, Discover magazine listed Professor Lindquist among the top 50 women scientists, calling her one of the world’s leading experts in prions, the misfolded proteins that cause mad cow disease. Lindquist’s work, the magazine said, has shown that, like DNA, proteins can carry inherited traits through generations.

In 2004, Professor Lindquist stepped down as director of the Whitehead Institute, though she remains a member of the Institute and has continued her teaching and scientific work at MIT. For that work, she received, in 2006, the William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement, awarded annually since 1950 to a scientist who has made an outstanding contribution to scientific research and has demonstrated an ability to communicate the significance of that research to scientists in other disciplines.

The honors from the scientific community have continued to accumulate. In January of this year, Professor Lindquist received the Genetics Society of America Medal, for outstanding contributions in the last 15 years. And just this past March, her groundbreaking work on Parkinson’s disease earned for her the Otto Warburg Medal, Germany’s highest honor for scientists who have made important contributions to biochemistry and molecular biology.

In April 2008, a paper she coauthored showed how she and other researchers are developing a novel approach to screen for drugs to combat neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, using yeast cells.

As a woman doing science at a major research institution, Susan Lindquist is still among a minority. Certainly, back in her Graduate School years, the male-female ratio was far worse, with less than a handful of women professors among the 65 in the department.

Fortunately, the situation is better now. Professor Lindquist was recently quoted as saying that the bias sometimes freed her to take risks. She said, “Once, early in my career, I wanted to change my research focus from fruit flies to yeast. Someone very senior advised me: ‘Don’t change your specialty. You’ll never get tenure.’ Well, I didn’t think I was going to get tenure anyway. So I made the switch. It led to a big leap in my research.”

Big leaps seem to have characterized Professor Lindquist’s scientific career, for she has gone from a searching biology student to an international leader in biomedical research. In the words of Barbara Grosz, Dean of the Radcliffe Institute and Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences, “Susan is a courageous scientist whose pioneering advances in research on protein misfolding have yielded discoveries that have improved our understanding of severe neurological diseases and increased the potential for cures. … She has served as a role model for her students and an advocate for women pursuing careers in science.”

For the final word, I turn to Harvard Overseer Joan A. Steitz, a fellow GSAS alumna and the Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale, who writes of her great admiration for Professor Lindquist’s work on specific aggregation diseases, as well as on cancer, aging, and memory – as well as her directorship of the Whitehead Institute. “In short,” says Professor Steitz, “Sue Lindquist is terrific.”

In short, we couldn’t agree more.

Susan Lindquist
PhD 1977, cellular and developmental biology

For your determined brilliance in unraveling the mysteries of deadly
and debilitating diseases, and for your leadership in the global
scientific community, we honor you today.

Earl Powell III, PhD ‘74, fine arts

Earl Powell presides over a national treasure – the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. And if ever an art historian and an art museum were meant for each other, these two are.

Born in South Carolina, Mr. Powell began his professional journey in western Massachusetts, at Williams College, where he studied art history. After college, he served in the Navy for three years during the Vietnam War, then continued to pursue his love of art at Harvard, where he earned his PhD with a dissertation on the nineteenth-century American painter Thomas Cole.

Seymour Slive, now the Gleason professor of fine arts emeritus, served on Mr. Powell’s dissertation committee. He recalls his first meeting with the man they call Rusty. “How could I forget it?” he writes. “At that meeting, in the late 1960s, Rusty, still an officer in the US Navy, appeared wearing his spanking white officer’s uniform. More than two decades earlier … I also had been a naval officer. The fact made me particularly sympathetic to a young Navy man who was eager to become an art historian.

“… [H]is achievements in the academy and the museum world,” Professor Slive adds, “have more than fulfilled the promise he showed at our first meeting.”

After completing his doctorate, Mr. Powell entered academia, joining the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin in 1974 as an art history professor and curator of the Michener Collection. While there, he oversaw exhibitions on abstract expressionism and the American artist Milton Avery.

In 1976, J. Carter Brown, then director of the National Gallery, brought Mr. Powell to Washington as a curator. His first mission was to help organize the famed King Tut exhibition, which drew record crowds and helped establish the blockbuster art show.

In 1980, Mr. Powell went cross-country to assume the directorship of a then up-and-coming museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. According to Art in America magazine, over the next decade or so, Mr. Powell transformed LACMA “from a local institution to a museum of international stature.” During his tenure, the museum’s Modern and Contemporary Art building was completed, the Pavilion for Japanese Art opened, and the Balch Art Research Library was expanded and renovated. Today, LACMA is the largest art museum in the Western United States.

In 1992, Mr. Powell returned to Washington to succeed his mentor, Carter Brown, as director of the National Gallery.

Mr. Powell is only the fourth director of the museum, which opened to the public in 1941. The collection has more than 100,000 European and American paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, books, and decorative arts dating from the 13th century to the present. Five to six million people a year view the Gallery’s holdings, which include one of the world’s finest collections of French impressionism and the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Western Hemisphere.

Under Mr. Powell’s leadership, the National Gallery has added more than 12,000 works to its collection and established an interactive Micro Gallery and a Website that allows children to view and to play with the collection online. A six-acre Sculpture Garden and a 25,000-square-foot suite of sculpture galleries featuring 900 works of art also have opened, and some 150 exhibitions have been presented, including blockbusters on ancient Egypt, Van Gogh, and Vermeer.

Over the years Earl Powell has also become more and more engaged in the civic role of the arts in America. He was recently appointed by President Bush to serve on the National Council on the Arts, the advisory body of the National Endowment for the Arts. He also serves as a trustee of the American Federation of Arts, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the White House Historical Association, and the Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, among others. He is a member of numerous arts organizations, including the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities and the National Portrait Gallery Commission.

His awards include the King Olav Medal, from Norway, and the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, from France. He also holds honorary doctorate degrees in fine arts from the Parsons Art Institute and Williams College. His publications include catalogue essays on Fitz Hugh Lane and the Luminist Movement, as well as a monograph on his dissertation topic, Thomas Cole, published in 1990.

Frank Kelly, senior curator of American and British Paintings at the National Gallery, wrote this of his longtime colleague: “Rusty has overseen an extraordinary variety of projects—exhibitions, acquisitions, educational programs—from the greatest imaginable range of art. In the process, he has amassed formidable knowledge about the artistic traditions of cultures from around the globe and from ancient times to the present day, all of which he can speak about with enviable intelligence and eloquence. He is thus an art historian admired as both a specialist and a generalist, who enjoys wide respect in the art-historical communities of museums and academe.”

When the National Gallery opened in 1941, the son of its founder and benefactor Andrew Mellon said that his father’s wish was that the gallery would become “not a static but a living institution, growing in usefulness and importance to artists, scholars, and the general public …” and that it be “the product of many minds intent on giving America their best.” Were he here today, I suspect Mr. Mellon would say that under Earl Powell’s leadership that mission has been—and continues to be—fulfilled.

Earl Powell III
PhD 1974, fine arts

For your innovative stewardship of one of the world’s great cultural
treasures, your rigorous advocacy for American art of all generations,
and your collegial contributions to the artistic life of this nation, we honor
you today.

Frank Shu, PhD ‘68, astronomy

He has never directed a Hollywood movie, but as one of the world’s leading authorities in theoretical astrophysics, Frank Shu has spent an entire career with the stars.

Born in China, he immigrated to the United States as a child. He completed his BS in physics in 1963 at MIT, working with the renowned C.C. Lin on what became known as the spiral density wave theory, ultimately the first model for understanding the formation of spiral galaxies.

That work continued at Harvard, where Frank Shu followed Professor Lin, working with him and the astrophysicist Max Krook. Frank earned his PhD in astronomy in 1968 for a dissertation that further explored “the dynamics and large-scale structure of spiral galaxies.”

Some thirty-plus years later, Professor Shu is considered the driving force in the theory of star formation. His pioneering work in a diverse set of fields, including the origin of meteorites, the birth and early evolution of stars, the process of mass transfer in close binary stars, and the structure of spiral galaxies, has been – pun intended - stellar.

And his papers on the theory of how giant clouds of gas in the galaxy collapse into stars have guided the work of a generation of observational astronomers.

After leaving Harvard, Professor Shu served on the faculty at the State University of New York at Stony Brook; then, in 1973, he joined the astronomy faculty at the University of California at Berkeley, where he remained for nearly three decades.

Professor Shu’s impact on his field was immediate and profound, as evidenced by his winning the American Astronomical Society’s Warner Prize in 1977. The prize is awarded annually to an astronomer under the age of 36 who has made a significant contribution to observational or theoretical astronomy during the five years preceding the award.

Five years later, in 1982, Professor Shu’s notes from an introductory astronomy class were turned into an undergraduate text called The Physical Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy. The book has been described as the "Feynman Lectures" of astrophysics, and, in it, Professor Shu covers everything from “the birth of science” to “life and intelligence in the Universe.” Professor Shu is also the author of another fundamental text, the two-volume set entitled The Physics of Astrophysics (sometimes affectionately referred to as the “two shoes”), as well as more than 100 scientific papers and articles.

Professor Shu has also amassed an exemplary record of professional service: with the American Astronomical Society, he has been councillor, vice-president, and, from 1994 to 1996, president. He was also a Board Member of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific during much of the 1980s, and served on the US National Committee of the International Astronomical Union for several years. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Academia Sinica in Taiwan, where he also helped found the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

To recognize Professor Shu’s superb scholarship and powerful insight in his contributions to galactic and stellar dynamics, star formation, and the dynamics of planetary rings, the American Astronomical Society honored him with the Brouwer Award in 1996.

Four years later, Professor Shu received the Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics, an important mid-career honor. Professor Shu was recognized for shaping our current understanding of star formation, for his research on an unusually large array of topics including the origin of spiral structure in galaxies, stellar dynamics, the evolution of close binary stars, planetary rings and composition of meteorites, and for his contributions as an educator and leader of the astronomical community.

In 2002 Professor Shu left his post as University Professor at Berkeley and assumed the presidency of the National Tsinghua University in Taiwan, where he served until 2006. In addition to giving a substantial boost to the institution’s scholarly and scientific reputation, Professor Shu’s arrival at National Tsinghua University was a sort of homecoming. His father, Shu Shien-siu, had served as the University’s president in the early 1970s.

After a distinguished tenure, in 2006 Professor Shu returned to the United States and to the University of California system. Today, he is a University Professor for all ten campuses and a Distinguished Professor of Physics at UC San Diego.

I’d like to close with some thoughts from Professor Shu’s longtime colleague Charles Lada, of Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics. “He has made truly seminal contributions to at least two fundamental areas of inquiry in astronomy: star formation and galactic structure. His PhD thesis was a tour de force … [and] the Lin-Shu density wave theory is now the foundation upon which rests all of our understanding of the spiral structure in disk galaxies. … He has, more than any other person, guided the way in which modern researchers (including myself) think about the problem of stellar origins.

“Frank Shu,” Dr. Lada concluded, “is one of the most visionary thinkers in astrophysics.”

And, like most visionaries, Professor Shu remains a force in the universe.

Frank Shu
PhD 1968, astronomy

For your extraordinary scientific insights, which have answered the
fundamental questions of astronomy and astrophysics of a curious world,
and for your gift for conveying such knowledge to generations of young
scientists, we honor you today.


Ezra Vogel, PhD ’58, social relations

The story of one of the foremost scholars of life in both Japan and China began in the American Midwest.

Born in Ohio, Ezra Vogel received his undergraduate degree at Ohio Wesleyan University, where his passion for social sciences first flourished. When the time came for graduate study, the young man looked East: to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

During his graduate career at Harvard, he pursued an in-depth study of the American middle-class family, writing his dissertation on “The Marital Relationship and the Emotionally Disturbed Child.”

After receiving his PhD in 1958, Ezra Vogel heeded the advice of an advisor, who suggested that the young scholar take on a comparative study. This time Ezra Vogel looked much farther East: to Japan. There he lived and worked for two years, studying the language and conducting research interviews with Japanese middle-class families, much as he had done with those in America.

His fieldwork resulted in the book Japan’s New Middle Class, subtitled “The Salaryman and His Family in a Tokyo Suburb,” published in 1963.

By this time, Professor Vogel had joined the faculty at Yale, where he stayed for a year as an assistant professor, then to return to Harvard in 1961 as a postdoctoral fellow in Chinese language and history, making him one of the rare American practitioners of both the Japanese and Chinese languages, a talent that has served him well.

He remained at Harvard, becoming, by 1967, a full professor. In 1972, Professor Vogel succeeded John Fairbank to become the second director of Harvard’s East Asian Research Center, which he led for five years.

Professor Vogel went on to chair the Council for East Asian Studies until 1980, when he assumed the directorship of the Program on US-Japan Relations at the Center for International Affairs, which he headed for seven years.

During this time, Professor Vogel published what is arguably his best-known book: Japan As Number One: Lessons for America, published in 1979. The book contained Professor Vogel’s observations of how the island nation had changed since his fieldwork period there in the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, when he returned for a two-year study.

The changes in Japanese society during that fifteen-year-plus span of time were enormous, Professor Vogel told an interviewer, and most Americans had no idea of the pace and direction of those changes. Professor Vogel sought to convey to the West what could be learned from Japan’s rapid economic progress—and this was before the notable business boom of the 1980s.

The book shocked many Americans and led to a period of national introspection. Professor Vogel found himself consulting with members of the US Senate and the New York Stock Exchange, who called for a conference to be held at Harvard on the issue of competitiveness. And several companies, including the Ford Motor Company, turned to Professor Vogel for advice on how to respond to economic changes in Japan.

Today, the Japanese edition of Japan as Number One remains that country’s all-time best-seller for nonfiction by a Western author.

In 1992, Professor Vogel published The Four Little Dragons: The Spread of Industrialization in East Asia, based on a series of lectures he gave at Harvard. One reviewer called this book about Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore “an achievement that refutes, once and for all, the notion that industrial revolutions only occur in the West.”

In 1993, Professor Vogel took a two-year leave of absence from Harvard to serve as the National Intelligence Officer for East Asia at the National Intelligence Council, under Joseph Nye, now a professor of international relations at the Kennedy School of Government and a Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor.

Nye praised Ezra Vogel for being “infinitely patient and generous in helping non-experts like me to understand Japan and China. He did this not only as a Harvard colleague and friend, but later as the National Intelligence Officer for East Asia. There he was able to bring his decades of wisdom to bear directly on major national policy issues.”

“The world,” added Professor Nye, “is a better place because of Ezra Vogel.”

Upon his return to Harvard in 1995, Professor Vogel again served as director of the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, and, in 1999, became the first director of Harvard’s Asia Center.

Now the Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences Emeritus, Professor Vogel officially retired from the University in 2000 but remains active in research and as a bridge between Eastern and Western scholars.

One of his former PhD students is Martin Whyte, a professor of sociology here at Harvard, who writes that even while producing path-breaking scholarship and advising on East-West relations, his mentor always had time for his students. "Even today, almost a decade after his retirement, Ezra continues a hectic pace of speaking, writing, and traveling, and yet he still finds time and energy to join me in organizing monthly dinner meetings in his home for all China sociology doctoral students and post-doctoral scholars at Harvard. I speak for all his former students in saying that, although we can never fill his shoes, we hope that in some small way we carry on his legacy of rigorous research and teaching on East Asia.”

Ezra Vogel has journeyed far — certainly geographically, but also intellectually and publicly — from providing insights into middle-class families, to brokering understandings among countries. Along the way, one thing has remained constant: this singular scholar’s belief that while communication may not resolve every problem, it is the only foundation upon which progress can be built.

I close with the warm words of Henry Rosovsky, the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor Emeritus, who wrote, for this occasion: “Ezra Vogel is unique among Harvard’s area specialists, having mastered both the languages and societies of China and Japan. His scholarly achievements are accompanied by a rare sense of civic virtue: his devotion to East Asian studies at Harvard is an inspiration to all of us. This presentation could be entitled ‘Ezra Vogel as Number One.’”

Ezra Vogel
PhD 1958, social relations

For being America’s scholarly ambassador to both China and Japan, helping
to bring together the public and private domains of East and West, and
for your unique pedagogical talents which have inspired generations of
students, we honor you today.