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Two New Golden Goose Awards for Science with Societal Impact

Thursday, September 12, 2013 - 13:49

The creators of the Golden Goose Award announced today two more sets of award winners whose federally funded research may not have seemed to have significant practical applications at the time it was conducted but has resulted in tremendous societal and economic benefit.

Mathematicians Lloyd Shapley and David Gale (deceased) and economist Alvin Roth are being recognized for their work which led to the national kidney exchange and other programs such as the national matching program for new medical residents and hospitals. Microbiologist Thomas Brock and glycobiologist Hudson Freeze are being recognized for their discovery that helped make possible the biotechnology industry and the genomics revolution.

Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN) first proposed the Golden Goose Award, and it was created in 2012 by a coalition of organizations including the American Astronomical Society. Like the bipartisan group of Members of Congress who support the Golden Goose Award, the founding organizations believe that federally funded basic scientific research is the cornerstone of American innovation and essential to our economic growth, health, global competitiveness, and national security. Award recipients are selected by a panel of respected scientists and university research leaders.

"We've all read stories about the study with the wacky title, the research project from left field," Rep. Cooper said. "But off-the-wall science yields medical miracles. We can't abandon research funding only because we can't predict how the next miracle will happen."

"I am proud to once again stand up with my colleagues in a bipartisan manner to promote federal support for basic scientific research," said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), also a congressional supporter of the Golden Goose Award. "The Golden Goose Award is an important reminder that ground-breaking achievements in science often begin with basic research that simply would not have been feasible for the private sector alone."

In 1962, supported in part by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, Drs. Gale and Shapley developed the Gale-Shapley deferred choice algorithm, which provided a means by which a large group of men and women could be matched to maximize marriage stability — they could be paired in such a way as to ensure that no man and woman matched with other mates could both find each other preferable to their own mate. While this might have seemed frivolous at the time — it was, after all, very theoretical — the algorithm actually led to a number of practical market applications by Dr. Roth. With funding from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Roth's applications included school choice systems for New York, Boston, and other cities, and the National Resident Matching Program, which pairs new doctors with hospitals nationwide.

Dr. Roth then built on another algorithm developed in part by Gale and Shapley, and also funded by the National Science Foundation, to develop a kidney exchange system that today is responsible for matching thousands of kidney recipients with unrelated kidney donors who otherwise might not have been able to receive kidneys compatible with their immune systems. Dr. Shapley and Dr. Roth received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2012 for their work. (Dr. Gale had died and was therefore ineligible for the Nobel.)

Dr. Brock and his then-undergraduate research assistant Hudson Freeze, with funding from the National Science Foundation, visited Yellowstone National Park because they were curious to find out how organisms survived in extreme conditions such as the park's famed hot springs and geysers. The enzymes produced by one of the bacteria they collected to study — which they named Thermus aquaticus — enabled scientists to employ the high heat necessary for the replication and study of its DNA. Once they were able to replicate and study DNA in this manner, scientists essentially created the field of biotechnology, which then made possible the genomics revolution. These developments have led to extraordinary medical advances in recent decades and promise many more.

The newly announced awardees, or their designees, will receive their awards at the second annual Golden Goose Awards ceremony in Washington, DC, on September 19.

— Adapted from a press release from the Association of American Universities. Read the full release (PDF).

Richard Tresch Fienberg
Press Officer & Director of Communications
American Astronomical Society
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