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March 17, 1997

Awards and Honors

Biological oceanographer Bess Ward, professor of ocean sciences, has received one of the top awards in her field: the 1997 G. Evelyn Hutchinson Award from the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography. Ward, age 42, is both the youngest recipient and the first woman to receive the prestigious honor, which the society has bestowed annually since 1982. The award recognizes outstanding midcareer scientists who exemplify the standards of scholarship and creativity set by the late G. Evelyn Hutchinson, a pioneering ecologist at Yale University.

[Photo of Bess Ward]

Ward's citation, in part, describes her "pioneering applications of molecular methods to key conversions of nitrogen and methane." In essence, Ward studies how quickly bacteria convert these substances from one form to another. Bacteria can oxidize methane into carbon dioxide, for instance, and can transform ammonium into nitrate. Such reactions are ubiquitous and vital to life cycles and biogeochemical cycles in agricultural fields, lakes, the ocean, and elsewhere.

Ward has helped to introduce the most modern techniques from molecular biology to her field. For example, she uses immunological methods to probe nitrifying bacteria in the ocean. Her research group also studies the effects of similar bacteria in nearby ecosystems, such as Elkhorn Slough and San Francisco Bay. The organisms are potentially useful as "bioremediators" to help clean petroleum, herbicides, and other toxic materials from the water and marshes.

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