Neuroscientist honored by White House
University of Southern California (USC) neuroscientist Roberta Diaz Brinton is among 13 winners of the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second highest civilian honor. Brinton is being honored for her contributions to science and technology education. For the past 19 years she has directed the USC STAR Program, which educates Los Angeles students and their teachers about science and provides hands-on research opportunities in labs at USC.
Brinton’s own laboratory studies the neural mechanisms of cognition and how they’re affected by aging and neurodegenerative disease. In particular, she’s received recognition, including being featured in a recent article in The New York Times Magazine, for her work on the potentially neuroprotective effects of estrogen in women who take hormone therapy after menopause.
Stem Cell Pioneer Yamanaka bags another Prize
TOKYO—The hot streak of stem cell researcher Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan and the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco, California, continues. The Inamori Foundation announced today he is the winner of this year’s Kyoto Prize in the category of advanced technology. Since his discovery in 2007 of a way to reprogram human adult cells to behave like embryonic stem cells without the controversial use of embryos, Yamanaka has won at least 10 major international awards, including two that often presage Nobel recognition: the Robert Koch Prize in 2008, and the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award in 2009.
The Kyoto Prize for lifetime achievement in basic sciences goes to László Lovász of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest for wide-ranging advances in mathematics and computer science. William Kentridge, a visual artist from Johannesburg, South Africa, has taken the arts and philosophy prize. Each winner will receive $550,000 at a ceremony on 10 November in Kyoto.
Who killed Masoud Alimohammadi, the Iranian physicist who was blown up outside his apartment in Teheran on 12 January by a remote-controlled motorcycle bomb? Emerging details of the professor’s scientific and political life have strengthened the accusation by opponents of Iran’s regime that the murder was sponsored by pro-government forces and not by foreign intelligence agencies, as Iranian authorities claim.
It has already been reported that Alimohammadi, a theoretical particle physicist at the University of Tehran, was one of 240 academics at the institution who had declared their support for Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main opponent of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in last year’s election.
On 5 January, just a week before he was killed, Alimohammadi gave a talk before a student gathering at his university’s physics department in which he encouraged students to press on with the reformist movement without descending into chaos. Expressing disillusionment with Iran’s current state of affairs, Alimohammadi recounted his political activism from 3 decades ago when he participated in the Islamic revolution.
Ali Nayeri, an Iranian-born physicist at Chapman University in Orange, California, who was a freshman at Sharif University in the late ’80s when Alimohammadi was earning a Ph.D. from that institution. Alimohammadi starts the talk by noting that fear of reprisals had kept many on campus from attending the event. “I, too, was instructed not to come,” he says, according to a translation.
Nayeri says he and many students he has talked to at the University of Tehran believe that Alimohammadi paid a price for his activism. “His killing was masterminded by the Islamic Republic,” Nayeri alleges. “The message to academics is: ‘Don’t meddle in the political sphere.’ ”
A look at Alimohammadi’s history reveals a man who went from radical Islamist roots to becoming a moderate and a reformist.
As a college student in the ’80s, he was actively involved in the cultural revolution that followed the overthrow of the monarchy in 1979, serving on a university committee that worked on physics education. He became the first Iranian student to receive a Ph.D. in physics from an Iranian university.
Nayeri says he saw Alimohammadi for the first time during a campus visit by the Nobelist Abdus Salam to officially inaugurate the Ph.D. program that Alimohammadi was enrolled in. Sporting a full beard, the young graduate student looked very much the pious Muslim that many say he was, Nayeri says. At the ceremony, a senior Iranian physicist touted Alimohammadi and the three other students who made up the inaugural class as proof that Iran could produce the next Salam.
Nayeri says his last meeting with Alimohammadi—in 1995 at a conference in Port Anzali—offers an insight into the man’s love for his country. Nayeri told Alimohammadi, then a researcher at the Institute for Studies in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics, about his plans to go abroad for graduate studies. Alimohammadi listened quietly, without expression, puffing on a cigarette. Nayeri finally asked him why he hadn’t moved to the West to pursue a scientific career. “He said—because we wanted to show that it was possible to stay in Iran and produce world class papers,” Nayeri recalls.
[Whether the view here is true or just a propaganda to blame some quarters, you judge]