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Lightfoot receives National Medal of Science

Edwin Lightfoot

Edwin Lightfoot (28K JPG)

President George W. Bush has named Hilldale Professor Emeritus of Chemical and Biological Engineering Edwin Lightfoot as one of eight recipients of the 2004 National Medal of Science, the nation's highest honor for science and technology.

Lightfoot was honored for pioneering contributions to scientific research and education. He is the eleventh University of Wisconsin-Madison scientist to receive the nation's most prestigious science award since it was established in 1959.

Lightfoot joined the UW-Madison faculty in 1953. He became one of the country's first professors in biochemical engineering, a forerunner to biomedical engineering. According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), which oversees the award process, Lightfoot was recognized for “vigorous and sustained leadership in developing the fields of biochemical and biomedical engineering, particularly in the areas of blood oxygenation, oxygen diffusion into tissue, mathematical modeling of biological reaction pathways, bioseparations and studies of diabetic responses.”

In scientific circles, he is also well known for seminal work toward a better understanding of mass transfer and chromatographic separations. Among students, he is known as one of the iconographic authors of a textbook, “Transport Phenomena,” first published in 1960 and which is considered a classic and landmark textbook in chemical and biological engineering. The text helped lay the foundation for the modern biotechnology industry.

“This award is really a testament to the excellent atmosphere in which I have worked for over half a century,” Lightfoot says. “Wisconsin was already a world leader in biochemistry when I arrived in 1953, and Olaf Hougen, our chairman, was wise enough to bet scarce departmental funds on an area not yet recognized by the engineering profession.”

Adds Lightfoot: “Professional and emotional support from UW biologists, beginning with Marvin Johnson of biochemistry and more recently from Richard Burgess of oncology, was essential. Just as important was support from federal agencies, particularly the National Institutes of Health and NSF. Behind all this was the willingness of American citizens to support activities that must often have seemed strange and even threatening, and to give us the freedom from political interference essential to long-term success.”

College of Engineering Dean Paul S. Peercy says Lightfoot is well deserving of national recognition and his many accomplishments have contributed significantly to his fields of interest, and to science in general.

“Edwin Lightfoot is an excellent choice for this very high honor,” Peercy says. “His work and leadership exemplify the character and tradition of excellence in the department of chemical and biological engineering and the College of Engineering as a whole.”

Lightfoot will receive his award from President Bush in a White House ceremony. The date for the ceremony has not yet been confirmed.