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Three from the University Win Governor’s Science Medals

December 3, 2008 — The State Science Advisor and the State Advisory Council on Science and Technology have announced that three University of Utah employees are winners of the 2008 Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology. Dr. David Chapman, dean of the graduate school and professor of geology and geophysics, won the award in the category of Academia. Lee Siegel, science news specialist for university public relations, was recognized in a Special Category for his work promoting scientific research at the university. Dr. Mario Capecchi, Nobel Laureate and distinguished professor of human genetics and biology, received a Special Recognition award.

All eight recipients were honored at a gala dinner and ceremony at the Huntsman Cancer Institute last night for their contributions and achievements.

The state of Utah has chosen the Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology as a symbol of recognition to those individuals who have provided distinguished service to the state of Utah in the fields of science and technology. The award program was initiated in 1987. Specific criteria were developed to determine the significance of the contributions to the economic development of the state. Initially, nominations were solicited from four general categories: Academia, Science Education, Industry and Government. The Special Category nominations are by invitation of the Governor Council only.

Information on the University of Utah recipients of the Governor’s Medals:

Mario Capecchi – As distinguished professor of human genetics and biology at the University of fUtah’s Eccles Institute of Human Genetics and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, Capecchi won the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The prize recognized Capecchi’s pioneering development of “knockout mice” technology, a gene-targeting technique that has revolutionized the study of mammalian biology and allowed the creation of animal models for hundreds of human diseases, including the modeling of cancers in the mouse. The Nobel tops a long list of prestigious honors for Capecchi. His achievements in gene targeting were recognized with the 2001 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research and the 2001 National Medal of Science, America’s highest award for lifetime achievement in scientific research, presented by President George W. Bush. In 2003, he also received the Wolf Prize in Medicine, Israel’s highest award for medical science, and the 2003 Pezcoller Foundation-AACR (American Association for Cancer Research) International Award for Cancer Research. Capecchi also received the 2005 March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology. Capecchi’s development of gene targeting technology not only has made possible the production of animal models for human disease, but it also is providing Capecchi and other researchers with insights into understanding fundamental biological questions, including development of the brain in the embryo or its function in the adult. Capecchi received his B.S. degree in chemistry and physics from Antioch College in 1961 and his Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard University in 1967. He completed his thesis work under the guidance of Nobel laureate James D. Watson, who, along with Francis Crick, determined the structure of DNA. Capecchi became a junior fellow at Harvard and was an associate professor of biochemistry there when, in 1973, he left to join the University of Utah faculty. Capecchi serves as co-chair of the Department of Human Genetics and is a founding member of the Brain Institute at the University of Utah.

David Chapman – A researcher, teacher, and innovative academic leader, Chapman is a highly respected and internationally known geophysicist. He is known for his research in measuring and interpreting thermal aspects of geological processes including global warming. In 2008, he was elected Fellow of the American Geophysical Union. A recipient of multiple University of Utah teaching prizes, Chapman is admired for his skills and dedication as an educator and an inspiring mentor. He has been honored by the University of Utah with the distinction of University Professor, and he has received both the Distinguished Teaching Award and the Hatch Prize for Excellence in Teaching. In 2006, Chapman received the University of Utah’s highest award, the Rosenblatt Prize. In 2002, he initiated a new Master of Science and Technology degree that blends science and business skills and provides for an industrial internship. He also founded the Water, Environment, Science and Teaching (West) program, which places graduate students as scientists in K-12 classrooms. A native of Vancouver Island, Canada, Chapman attended the University of British Columbia, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics. He received his Ph.D. in geophysics from the University of Michigan. He joined the University of Utah faculty in 1976.

Lee J. Siegel – As science news specialist for the University of Utah’s public relations office, Lee Siegel looks for potentially newsworthy studies by faculty members and then works with the researchers to translate their work into news releases aimed at gaining local, national, and global news coverage. He began his career working for newspapers in Washington state (1976-1981), and was a member of the staff of The Daily News of Longview, Wash., when the staff won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Siegel joined the Associated Press in Seattle in 1981, then in 1982 transferred to the AP’s Los Angeles bureau, where he served as one of the wire service’s national science writers during 1984-1993. Siegel was science editor for The Salt Lake Tribune during 1993-2000, a science writer for for several months in 2000 before joining the University of Utah in December 2000. With University of Utah Geophysicist Robert B. Smith, Siegel is co-author of “Windows into the Earth: The Geologic Story of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks,” Oxford University Press, 2000. Siegel was born and grew up in Portland, Ore., where he started blowing up chemicals in his parents’ basement at a young age. During high school and college, he worked summers for the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon and earned a master’s degree at the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York.