Whitehead Member Susan Lindquist to Receive National Medal of Science

Lindquist shaking Obama's hand

In the East Room of the White House, Whitehead Member Susan Lindquist receives the National Medal of Science from President Barack Obama.

Photo: Ryan K Morris Photography/National Science & Technology Medals Foundation

October 15, 2010

Tags: Lindquist LabAwards + Announcements

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – President Obama today named Whitehead Member Susan Lindquist a recipient of the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest scientific honor.

As an award recipient, Lindquist was cited “for her studies of protein folding, demonstrating that alternative protein conformations and aggregations can have profound and unexpected biological influences, facilitating insights in fields as wide-ranging as human disease, evolution, and biomaterials.”

The National Medal of Science, which is awarded annually, was established by Congress in 1959 as a Presidential award honoring those who have made “outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical, or engineering sciences.”

In announcing this year’s 10 medalists, President Obama stated: “The extraordinary accomplishments of these scientists, engineers, and inventors are a testament to American industry and ingenuity. Their achievements have redrawn the frontiers of human knowledge while enhancing American prosperity, and it is my tremendous pleasure to honor them for their important contributions.”

Lindquist herself says she reacted with “stunned surprise” upon learning of the honor.

“I’m just absolutely thrilled,” she says. “When I started out in science, I thought having a bench in the corner of someone’s lab would be about the best I could hope for. It never occurred to me that I could have my own lab, let alone achieve an honor like this.”

Lindquist, who is also a professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, credits her family—and her husband Edward Buckbee in particular—for supporting her remarkably successful career. She says Edward and daughters Eleanora, 23, and Alana, 21, couldn’t be more delighted.

“They’re just so proud and excited and sweet about all this,” she says, adding that her daughters can’t wait to visit the White House to watch their mother receive the medal. Long an advocate for women in science, Lindquist says she hopes this latest achievement will further demonstrate that it is possible to succeed in a scientific career while balancing a family life that includes children.

Whitehead Institute Director David Page applauds Lindquist for scientific leadership that has had significant impact locally, nationally, and internationally.

“I couldn’t be more excited for Susan over this recognition of her incredible scientific imagination and creativity,” Page says. “It’s also very exciting for me that Susan is such an integral part of the scientific mix here at Whitehead Institute. The energy she brings to her lab’s pursuits permeates the Institute as a whole, and the place is so much richer because of it.”

Lindquist earned her PhD in biology from Harvard University in 1976 and joined the biology faculty at the University of Chicago in 1978. She left Chicago in 2001 to become Director of Whitehead Institute, a position she held until 2004. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1997, the National Academy of Sciences in 1997 and the Institute of Medicine in 2006.

She is expected to receive the medal from President Obama at a White House ceremony on November 17, at which time she’ll become Whitehead Institute’s second National Medal of Science recipient. Founding Member Robert Weinberg garnered the honor in 1997.

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Susan Lindquist’s primary affiliation is with Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where her laboratory is located and all her research is conducted. She is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Wholly independent in its governance, finances, and research programs, Whitehead shares a close affiliation with Massachusetts Institute of Technology
through its faculty, who hold joint MIT appointments.

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