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Falmouth scientist receives highest honor from National Academy of Sciences

Dr. John Holdren speaks during a press conference, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010, at the National Press Club in Washington.
NASA/Bill Ingalls/NASA/Bill Ingalls
NASA/Bill Ingalls
Dr. John Holdren speaks during a press conference, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010, at the National Press Club in Washington.

Some of the country’s most famous scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Carl Sagan have all been awarded the prestigious Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Now, a Falmouth scientist, John Holdren, joins their ranks.

On January 26, NAS announced Holdren, president emeritus of Woodwell Climate Research Center in Woods Hole, will receive the honor for “extraordinary use of science for the public good” on May 1, during the Academy’s 159th annual meeting.

“Well, first of all, I was surprised,” Holdren said, of hearing the news from NAS president Marcia McNutt. “Secondly, I was delighted.”

“I have known about that award for many years,” he said. “And the great honor of getting this award from the academy is amplified for me by my having known and admired so many of the previous recipients.”

For eight years, Holdren acted as science advisor to former President Barack Obama, making him the longest serving presidential science advisor since World War II.

He guided policy and research on fusion energy, climate change, the Ebola and H1N1 outbreaks, and international security and arms control, but said he couldn’t pick between his two greatest accomplishments.

“It has to be a tie for first place between the enormous opportunity of serving President Obama for all eight years of his administration,” Holdren said, “and the opportunity to work with so many outstanding students.”

He currently serves as research professor in Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and co-director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program in the School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

“Whether it be pandemic, disease, climate change, conflict, poverty, sustainability,” he said, “our chances of mastering those challenges are all now residing very heavily with the younger generation. I see such tremendous talent and energy there that it is one of my main sources of optimism about the future.”

Now, with this award in hand, Holdren said he’s not slowing down.

“I’m now a research professor focusing on six different projects on research and policy engagement around issues of climate change, sustainability, the challenges of the Arctic, nuclear arms control and nonproliferation,” he said. 

He’s also working on a memoir about his career at the intersection of science, technology, and public policy.

The working title: Speaking Science to Power.

“I’m about to turn 78, but I have no desire to stop working on those issues," he said. "As long as I'm still able to function and contribute, I plan to keep to keep at it.” 

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.