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Celebrating Women’s Achievements Internationally
The University’s Pearl Meister Greengard
Prize is a major initiative that is helping
to move women from the margins of the
scientific enterprise to the center. This
prestigious international award for
women scientists was created through
the vision and generosity of Nobel
laureate and Vincent Astor Professor Paul
Greengard and his wife, the sculptor
Ursula von Rydingsvard. Determined to
use his prominence as a Nobel laureate
to ensure that more women receive
the scientific honors that their work
merits, Dr. Greengard donated his entire
monetary share of the 2000 Nobel Prize
in Physiology or Medicine to Rockefeller
to create the award. “The discrimina-
tion of 25 years ago is reflected in the
relatively few women at the top today.
I hope to bring more attention to the
work of brilliant women scientists,” said
Dr. Greengard. The prize is named in
memory of Dr. Greengard’s mother,
who died giving birth to him. By put-
ting the spotlight on the essential but
often unrecognized accomplishments of
women scientists, Dr. Greengard hopes
to increase the likelihood that women
will receive their fair share of the highest
honors in science, such as the Nobel
Prize and the Albert Lasker Award.
In 2009, Elizabeth H. Blackburn and
Carol W. Greider, 2008 recipients of the
Greengard Prize, shared the Nobel Prize in
Physiology or Medicine for the discovery
of how chromosomes are protected by
telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.
Unlike Drs. Greider and Blackburn, some
scientists—for example, Rockefeller’s
Rebecca Lancefield—revolutionize the
understanding of a particular problem
or open new pathways for discovery,
without receiving the recognition they
deserve. In other cases, recognition
comes slowly. When Mary Frances Lyon,
a luminary in the field of mammalian
genetics, was presented with the 2006
Pearl Meister Greengard Prize, she had
entered the ninth decade of her life.
Yet the discovery for which she is best
known had been made more than 40
years earlier, in 1961, when she posited
the existence of a process she called
X-chromosome inactivation. Often
called lyonization in honor of Dr. Lyon,
this process has proven to be a key
genetic control mechanism studied in
laboratories around the world, including
those working at the cutting edge of the
new field of epigenetics.
Each year, the Pearl Meister Greengard
Prize is presented by a distinguished
woman from a different field of
endeavor. Presenters have included
Sandra Day O’Connor, Joan Didion,
Andrea Mitchell, and the former
president of Ireland, Mary Robinson.
As part of the ceremony, presenters and
recipients alike are asked to speak of
their experiences as women in their
professions. These accounts are moving
and inspiring, and have a profound
effect, especially on the young women
scientists in attendance. Each year, the
audience for this ceremony grows larger,
with supporters from Rockefeller as well
as surrounding academic institutions,
all coming together in celebration of the
contributions of women scientists.
2010 PMG Prize recipients Janet Rowley (left) and
Mary-Claire King with Paul Greengard.