Yale scientist wins top French award

July 18, 2013

This article is republished from Yale News. For questions, please contact Yale News at news@yale.edu or 203-432-1345.

Read this article on YaleNews

Yale’s Joan Steitz, Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, has been named the 2013 Grand Medal winner by the French Academy of Sciences. Each year, the Grande Médaille, highest honor of Academie des Sciences, is awarded to a French national or to a foreign scientist who has made “remarkable and decisive” contributions to his or her field. Steitz is best known for her pioneering work with non-coding RNA. With her student Michael Lerner, she discovered and later defined the contribution of small ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs) to the cellular process of making proteins. She is also recognized for her work encouraging women to pursue careers in science. Honors accorded Steitz include the Gairdner Foundation International Award, the Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Resarch, E.B. Wilson Medal from the American Society for Cell Biology and the Rosalind Franklin Award for Women in Science from the National Cancer Institute. A graduate of Antioch College in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, Steitz earned her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1967. After completing postdoctoral work in Cambridge, England, she joined the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale as an assistant professor and later became a full professor, as well as chair of the department. The French Academie des Sciences was originally the official science advisory board for Louis XIV in 1666. It was responsible for the transitioning of France to the metric system. Past members include Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur. The academy has undergone many reorganizations over the years, most recently in 1976; it has established 80 medals that are awarded annually, including the Grande Médaille.