2 Hopkins scientists win top U.S. honor

Presidential awards go to Snyder, Giacconi

White House ceremony March 14

February 15, 2005|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Two Johns Hopkins University scientists will receive the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest honor for scientific achievement and pioneering research, President Bush announced yesterday.

Dr. Solomon H. Snyder, a neuroscientist and authority on how brain cells communicate with one another, and Riccardo Giacconi, a 2002 Nobel laureate who served as the first director of the Hopkins-based Space Telescope Science Institute, received word of their honor late last week.

"I was deeply honored that the work of my students after all these years had been recognized," said Snyder, 66, who added that he will bring his 8-year-old granddaughter Abigail, an aspiring world leader, with him to the awards ceremony March 14 at the White House.

The president will hand out the awards to eight winners, including four from California.

Giacconi, 73, said he was honored to be recognized as one of the nation's top scientific minds.

Giacconi says he was told he was being recognized for his work in X-ray astronomy, as well as services he performed as the first director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates the Hubble Space Telescope from its headquarters at Hopkins' Homewood campus in North Baltimore. Giacconi was director of the institute from 1981 to 1992.

Giacconi's recognition comes at the same time that funding for the telescope project whose creation and early years he shepherded is under fire in Washington. The 14-year-old Hubble needs about $2 billion in repairs and members of Congress have debated whether it is worth the expense.

The Italian-born Giacconi, a U.S. citizen, has been credited with building the first X-ray telescopes and laying the foundation for X-ray astronomy, which has led to the discovery of black holes and enabled researchers to peer deep into galaxies where stars are born.

Snyder, who said he received the National Science Medal for a "lifetime of accomplishments," has spent his career trying to understand how brain cells communicate with one another.

At 31, he became the youngest full professor in the Hopkins medical school's history.

Among his many discoveries, Snyder found molecules on the surface of nerve cells that serve as docking points for natural opiates, chemicals manufactured by the brain to dampen pain. Without these receptors, people would experience pain more intensely than they do.

The National Science Board Web site lists six other Hopkins-affiliated recipients among more than 400 since 1962. The medal was established by Congress in 1959 as a presidential award to honor individuals for scientific research that has led to a better understanding of the world, as well as innovations that give the United States an economic edge.

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