NU Professor Wins $1.5 million Prize, 8 Others Recognized

Julie French

By Julie FrenchThe Daily Northwestern

Northwestern faculty members pulled in nine prestigious awards at the end of Winter Quarter, including a $1.5 million prize that is awarded to only one person each year.

The Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities is the world’s largest monetary award given annually to a single individual. The prize went to Charles Taylor, a professor of philosophy and law.

Taylor, who has studied the spiritual dimensions of philosophy and law for more than 50 years, will officially be rewarded at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in May. His research included using both spiritual and secular perspectives to solve social problems.

“It’s a tremendous honor for him to be recognized,” said Law School Dean David Van Zandt. “We’re so proud to have him on our faculty. I remember reading (his work) back when I was in graduate school back in the mid-’70s. This is an underlining of his excellence.”

Eight young NU scientists also received Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowships and Faculty Early Career Development awards – also known as CAREER awards – which are given to researchers who are in the beginning of their careers.

NU tied with Harvard University for six Sloan Fellowships.

Only Massachusetts Institute of Technology earned more, besting NU by one.

Fellowship winners – chemistry Profs. Franz Geiger and Karl Scheidt, McCormick Profs. Bartosz Grzybowski and Lincoln Lauhon, mathematics Prof. David Nadler and ophthalmology Prof. Joshua Singer – will receive $45,000 each for their independent contributions to science.

The recognition that comes with the award is more significant than the money, said Singer, who was honored for his work on night vision.

“These grants are important for young investigators because they provide an assessment from outside of the university about the quality of the work,” he said. “It’s readily apparent to people outside the field that this is interesting and important.”

Singer’s research on how the retina turns light into a nerve signal could provide insight into diseases affecting vision. Many of the other award recipients also do research that can have applications beyond their own field of interest.

“The Sloan Fellowship is generally indicative of work that has a broader impact,” said Lauhon, who works with nanowires. His research could impact areas ranging from medical imaging to improving gas mileage, he said.

Scheidt also sees varying applications of his research in catalytic reactions, whether it be in cancer research or making television screens thinner. Scheidt previously won the CAREER award and he said that prize money enables professors to do research that makes them stronger Sloan candidates in the future.

Two McCormick professors won CAREER awards earlier this year. The most recent winners are economics Prof. Wojciech Olszewski and Earth and planetary sciences Prof. Suzan van der Lee. Van der Lee and Olszewski each will receive a minimum of $400,000 over the next five years to support their research.

Olszewski and other winners said the support they received from fellow researchers and NU were instrumental to their success.

“I see this as a collective win,” said Geiger, a Sloan winner. “The fact that we have six (Sloans) overall … it really tells you about how great science, engineering and economics really are at Northwestern.”

It also shows that NU is willing to take risks by investing in its younger faculty members, he said.

“The university is very proud that the people we hired, supported and molded are receiving that kind of recognition outside of Northwestern,” said Marie Jones, an associate dean of Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

Jones prepares an annual list of faculty award winners, and although the names of the awards might change, she said, “that list gets a little bit longer every year.”

Reach Julie French at [email protected]