President Barack Obama awarded MU professor and researcher M. Frederick Hawthorne the National Medal of Science in a White House ceremony Feb. 1.
Hawthorne is one of 12 researchers from across the U.S. who received the National Medal of Science, which is the nation’s highest honor in the field. The award recognizes those who have made “outstanding contributions” to the field of science, according to a White House press release. The President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science, a group of 12 scientists and engineers appointed by the president, selected the recipients.
A separate White House news release included a brief award description of the recognized scientific achievements of each laureate. The award recognizes Hawthorne for his lifetime of “highly creative pioneering research in inorganic, organometallic and medicinal borane chemistry,” according to the release.
Hawthorne established the International Institute of Nano and Molecular Medicine at MU in 2006, according to the institute’s website. He serves as the institute’s director and is also a Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Radiology at MU. In 2009, Hawthorne received the Priestly Medal, the highest honor of the American Chemical Society.
Hawthorne did not respond to multiple interview requests from The Maneater. In a Dec. 27 MU News Bureau news release, Hawthorne said he came to MU because of its unique combination of science disciplines and humanities on the same campus, large nuclear reactor and strong biomedicine departments.
Alexander Safronov, research assistant professor at the institute, described Hawthorne as a pioneer in boron chemistry.
“It is difficult to describe more than 50 years of his experience in chemistry,” Safronov said. “A lot of molecules that chemists work with now, and have published a lot of papers about, were first prepared by Dr. Hawthorne or took place in his lab.”
Safronov said one of Hawthorne’s main scientific focuses is the Boron Neutron Capture Therapy of cancer. The process involves a boron isotope causing a miniature nuclear explosion upon interaction with a slow neutron, Safronov said. The binary therapy, a form of radiation therapy, can be used to treat malignant tumors
The study of BNCT is only one example of Hawthorne’s career pursuits.
“All of the time he was working in chemistry was dedicated to the development of new methods of therapy, new compounds (and) new methods of delivery of those compounds,” Safronov said.
Prior to his time at MU, Hawthorne was a postdoctoral associate at Iowa State University, senior research chemist and laboratory head at Rohm and Haas Company, visiting lecturer at Harvard University and a University Professor of Chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles, according to the institute’s website.
Hawthorne, 84, has authored or co-authored more than 530 research papers, 30 patents and 10 book chapters. The extent of Hawthorne’s research made him a strong candidate for the National Medal of Science.
The National Science Foundation provides administrative support for the presidential award, said Mayra Montrose, Program Manager for the National Medal of Science at NSF, in an email.
The committee selects award recipients on criteria including, but not limited to, the impact of a candidate’s work with relation to innovation and the development of new thought in a particular field of science, sustained impact on education, and significant advancement of science for the U.S., according to the NSF website.
Including this year’s recipients, 480 awards have been given since Congress established the honor in 1959. Only 5 to 6 percent of the nominees receive the award, Montrose said in an email.
“I am proud to honor these inspiring American innovators,” Obama said in a Dec. 21 White House press release. “They represent the ingenuity and imagination that has long made this nation great.”
Safronov said the opportunity to work with Hawthorne was the basis for his decision to move from Moscow to the U.S. and work at the institute. He said Hawthorne continues to have a positive influence on those working with him.
“He has this inspirational energy,” Safronov said. “Every time after you talk to him, you know you just want to go do something new, think about different projects, come up with new ideas. He is a very inspiring person.”
Safronov said Hawthorne’s award was more than earned.
“The only thing that I thought of is, ‘Why wasn’t he awarded earlier?’” Safronov said. “His contribution to the field is so huge. He earned it 100 percent. It’s an honor to have a person like Dr. Hawthorne working at the university.”