The 2014 Centennial Medalists
The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Centennial Medal, first awarded in 1989 on the occasion of the school’s hundredth anniversary, honors alumni who have made contributions to society that emerged from their graduate study at Harvard. It is the highest honor the Graduate School bestows, and awardees include some of Harvard’s most accomplished alumni.
The 2014 Centennial Medal Winners
Bruce Alberts ’60, Ph.D. ’66, Biophysics
Bruce Alberts ’60, Ph.D. ’66, holds the Chancellor’s Leadership Chair in biochemistry and biophysics for science and education at the University of California, San Francisco. After earning his Ph.D., he spent 10 years at Princeton before joining UCSF as a professor in the department of biochemistry and biophysics. During that time, he earned a reputation as an outstanding teacher and researcher who illuminated the mechanisms of DNA replication and coauthored The Molecular Biology of the Cell, now in its fourth edition.
Alberts is equally well known for his advocacy. Since first noticing substandard science resources in San Francisco public schools during the 1980s, he has dedicated his energies to improving science education throughout the United States. He built a partnership—it has become an internationally recognized model—between UCSF and local schools that shared materials and equipment, believing strongly that the university had a duty to provide children and teachers with the tools needed to excel. As president of the National Academy of Sciences, he spurred the adoption of national standards for K-12 science education and has worked to bring science literacy and leadership to the developing world. Appointed a science envoy by President Barack Obama, Alberts promoted science and the values of science in the Muslim world, and he continued to advocate for improved science education throughout the world as editor-in-chief of Science.
“Bruce Alberts is one of the most admired figures in American science,” says Richard Losick, Cabot professor of biology at Harvard. He used his bully pulpits “to promote evidence-based approaches to science education (promoting research to determine what works and what doesn’t work), inspiring me and countless other colleagues across the country to devote ourselves as much to teaching effectively as to doing science.”
Keith Christiansen, Ph.D. ’77, Fine Arts
Keith Christiansen, Ph.D. ’77, fine arts, is the Pope-Hennessy chairman of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s department of European paintings. While working toward his doctorate, he received a Fulbright grant to travel to Italy and conduct research on the early Renaissance painter Gentile da Fabriano; his dissertation ultimately became a book that won the Mitchell Prize for best first book in art history. A chance meeting in Florence with then-British Museum director John Pope-Hennessy, who was about to take up a new position at the Met, led to an offer to join the staff as an assistant curator.
During his 37 years at the Met, Christiansen has held numerous curatorial roles and taught at Columbia, New York University, and Smith College. He has helped the museum acquire important works by Duccio, Pietro Lorenzetti, and Romanino and organized successful exhibitions focused on Caravaggio and Michelangelo. In his current role, he oversees the Met’s Old Masters—seven centuries of individual masterpieces and cultural monuments. Christiansen, says Harvard curator Stephan Wolohojian, has organized these treasures into “watershed exhibitions on topics as diverse as Mantegna, Tiepolo, Caravaggio, Poussin, and fifteenth-century Siena,” revealing a “remarkable curiosity and intellectual scope.”.
Judith Lasker, Ph.D. ’76, Sociology
Judith Lasker, Ph.D. ’76, sociology, is the N.E.H. Distinguished Professor of sociology in Lehigh University’s department of sociology and anthropology. Through the 1980s and beyond, she undertook what proved to be a groundbreaking exploration of women’s health and reproductive lives. Her first influential book on the subject was When Pregnancy Fails: Families Coping with Miscarriage, Ectopic Pregnancy, Stillbirth, and Infant Death. From that work, she developed a widely used quantitative tool for assessing the effects of pregnancy loss—the Perinatal Grief Scale—and she conducted domestic and international studies that strengthened the literature on grief and bereavement. She also published In Search of Parenthood: Coping with Infertility and High Tech Conception, part of a body of work exploring the social and ethical dimensions of new reproductive technology.
After exploring issues related to alternative currencies, social capital and health, and community-building, some of which resulted in a book coauthored with Ed Collum, Equal Time, Equal Value, Lasker returned to a topic that has interested her since her Harvard days—global health. In research she is conducting for a forthcoming book, she is exploring the impact of short-term American volunteering in international healthcare settings, assessing the effectiveness of this growing trend with its often well-meaning origins but untested results.
“From her teaching and research, Judy’s legacy will span generations,” says Ellen Sogolow, a former research scientist with the Centers for Disease Control. “From her personal strength, her reach already is vast, in ways that perhaps science does not measure. Dr. Judith Lasker shines a bright light on how very much one person can accomplish with one lifetime.”
Leo Marx ’41, Ph.D. ’50, History of American Civilization
Leo Marx ’41, Ph.D. ’50, history of American civilization, is a senior lecturer and Kenan professor of American cultural history emeritus, in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society. In 1964, he wrote The Machine in the Garden, which reveals the conflict between ancient pastoral life and the incipient industrialization of society, as noted in works by Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau. This seminal work essentially launched the field of American studies, and for 50 years, it has never been out of print.
Marx taught at the University of Minnesota and Amherst College before joining MIT in 1976 as the Kenan Professor. In more than 40 years of teaching, he continued to focus on the themes he laid out in The Machine in the Garden, themes that have increasing significance in the twenty-first century. “It is rare for a book that is 50 years old to still seem contemporary,” says Joyce Chaplin, Phillips professor of early American history at Harvard. “But Leo Marx’s Machine in the Garden reads as freshly relevant in 2014 as it did in 1964. As realization dawns that concerns about the environment and of the impact of human technology upon it are problems that will not go away, it is extraordinary to realize that Marx put nature and technology into the study of American culture from the start. He was right then, and he’s right now.”