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Williams College to Honor Eight Renowned Scientists
and Dedicate New Science Center, Sept. 23

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., August 2, 2000 -- Williams College will honor eight distinguished scientists at its Fall Convocation. President of the College Morton Owen Schapiro will confer the honorary degrees on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 10 a.m. in Chapin Hall. Dr. Rita R. Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation, will give the principal address.

Receiving honorary degrees will be

  • astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell,
  • biochemist Thomas R. Cech,
  • microbiologist Rita R. Colwell,
  • physicist Daniel Kleppner,
  • computer scientist Donald E. Knuth,
  • psychologist George A. Miller,
  • geologist William B. F. Ryan,
  • professor of political science, statistics, and computer science, Edward R. Tufte.

The college's $47 million science center, including the new Morley Science Laboratories and Schow Science Library, will be dedicated in the afternoon. The new facilities uniquely integrate science activities across all disciplines.

Honorary Degree Recipients

Convocation speaker Dr. Rita Colwell is director of the National Science Foundation. Former president of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute and professor of microbiology at the University of Maryland, Dr. Colwell was a member of the National Science Board from 1984 to 1990 and has held numerous other advisory positions in the U.S. Government, private foundations, as well as in the international community. She is the author or co-author of 16 books and more than 500 scientific publications. She produced the award-winning film, "Invisible Seas."

Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell's career began with a momentous discovery: while she was a graduate student at Cambridge University she discovered pulsars--a new class of celestial objects. Pulsars are neutron stars--stars that the mass of the sun shrunk to the size of a city and which rotate completely around in a single second. (As they rotate, a beam of radio waves flashes by, just as a lighthouse beam seems to flash.) Bell's exciting discovery provided vital clues to the evolution and death of stars. In addition to radioastronomy, she has made contributions to gamma-ray, X-ray, infrared, and submillimeter astronomy. Since 1991 she has been professor of physics at the Open University, the largest institution of higher learning in the United Kingdom. She is one of only two women in Great Britain to hold the position of full professor of physics.

Dr. Thomas R. Cech, who became president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 2000, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1989 for his research on RNA. In 1982, Professor Cech and his research group at the University of Colorado in Boulder announced that an RNA molecule from Tetrahymena, a single-celled organism, cut and rejoined chemical bonds in the complete absence of proteins. His discovery demonstrated that RNA has catalytic activity, similar to that of enzymes, in addition to the ability to carry genetic information. It has led to new theories on the origin of life, in which RNA molecules are envisioned as the first self-reproducing systems. He continues research on the structure of RNA enzymatic molecules (ribozymes) and on the telomerase enzyme in his Boulder, Colorado laboratory. He was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Clinton in 1995.

Professor Daniel Kleppner, the Lester Wolfe Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, works in experimental atomic physics, high precision measurements, and quantum optics. He pioneered the search for Bose-Einstein condensation (BEC) in atoms, resulting in his recent discovery of BEC in hydrogen. For his many contributions to atomic physics, Kleppner has received the Davisson-Germer Prize and the Lilienfeld Prize, awarded by the American Physical Society. Kleppner emphasizes the importance of "small" science, the kinds of research projects that often take place in a college or university laboratory with a professor and a few students. Indeed, he has served as a mentor to a whole generation of successful atomic physicists. He is a 1953 graduate of Williams College.

Donald E. Knuth is Professor Emeritus of The Art of Computer Programming at Stanford University. One of the acknowledged fathers of computer science, his "The Art of Computer Programming" series, is widely considered essential reading. It has been translated into seven languages and has sold more than one million copies. In addition, he has written more than 300 works on a wealth of topics in computer science and mathematics as well as font design, typesetting, and religion. He has received over 60 honors and awards including the highest award in computer science, the Alan M. Turing Award, which he received in 1974, and the Kyoto Prize (1996), one of the biggest in the scientific world. He was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Carter in 1979.

George Miller is one of the pre-eminent scholars in the field of cognitive psychology. Over the course of many years, his work on memory and language "beautifully conceptualized and reported in elegantly written papers and books" has been at the forefront of research on psychology, language, and communication. His 1956 paper "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two" is the classic on information processing. He is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, at Princeton University. He was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Bush in 1991.

Dr. William B. F. Ryan is the co-author of the 1998 book about the catastrophic flooding of the Black Sea--"Noah's Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries about the Event That Changed History." According to the physical evidence, about 7,600 years ago the Mediterranean began rising in Marmara and crashing through the natural dam of the Bosporus, raising the Black Sea 280 feet in 12 months. His discovery has stimulated archeological and other scientific exploration in the previously neglected Black Sea region. A 1961 graduate of Williams, Dr. Ryan is senior research scientist in geology at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and adjunct professor of earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University.

Edward R. Tufte, professor emeritus of political science, statistics, and computer science at Yale University, is the unequaled authority in a field known as information design, which consists of making sense of data and presenting it in ways that make sense to others. Tufte has written six books, the best known being "Visual Explanation," "Envisioning Information," and "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information." Since 1993, more than 60,000 students have participated in his one-day touring lecture course, "Presenting Data and Information." He has worked on statistical and design matters for The New York Times, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Lotus Development Corporation, Newsweek, CBS, NBC, and the Bureau of the Census. A special exhibition in the Williams College Chapin Library, inspired by the books of Edward Tufte, opens Sept. 22.

In addition to participation in the Convocation ceremonies, each of these distinguished scientists will deliver a talk while they are on campus (Sept, 21-Sept. 23). The talks are open to the public.


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