University News

UCLA Physiologist Dr. Jared Diamond Wins National Medal of Science



Today President Clinton named UCLA professor of physiology Dr. JaredDiamond as one of 12 high-ranking scientists to receive the prestigious1999 National Medal of Science. Diamond will join the other honorees ata White House presentation ceremony on March 14. "Jared Diamond isan extraordinary scholar and teacher," praised Dr. Albert Carnesale,UCLA chancellor. "His important scientific contributions have enabledmillions of people to share in the excitement of new knowledge and theories.We're proud to have Dr. Diamond as a member of the UCLA family."

"UCLA is honored to have such a brilliant scholar on our faculty,"agreed Dr. Gerald S. Levey, provost for medical sciences and dean of theUCLA School of Medicine. "Dr. Diamond's writing, research and fieldstudies have made remarkable contributions to our understanding of thenatural world."

The National Science Foundation (NSF) bestowed the award on Diamondfor his breakthrough discoveries in evolutionary biology and landmark researchin applying Darwinian theory to the diverse fields of physiology, ecology,conservation biology and human history.

"Just as engineers design our machines, so did natural selection'design' our bodies," explained Diamond, who joined the UCLA Schoolof Medicine in 1966. "Natural selection eliminates poorly designedbodies in the same way that marketplace competition eliminates poorly designedmachines.

"Applying this evolutionary perspective to our bodies helps usto better understand the strength of our bones, the size of our organsand the quantity of our enzymes," he added.

The NSF also commended Diamond for his passion and rare skill at interpretingimportant scientific issues for the public. In 1998, he captured the PulitzerPrize for his second nonfiction book, "Guns, Germs and Steel: TheFates of Human Societies." The work reveals the complex reasons Eurasiansocieties evolved more rapidly than societies living on other continentsduring the same era. "This book challenges the intellectual basisfor racism," Diamond said. "I discovered that history turnedout differently for various peoples due to differences in their environments.It had nothing to do with imagined differences in their IQ."

Diamond devotes much of his time to writing for popular science magazines.He is a contributing editor for Discover and produces regular pieces forthe "News & Views" section of the prestigious journal, Nature.His most recent book, "Why is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality,"was published in 26 languages.

Not content to rest on his academic laurels, Diamond has led 18 gruelingscientific expeditions to the South Pacific's most remote, uninhabitedmountain ranges. A leading expert on the birds of New Guinea, his fieldstudies have illuminated how hundreds of bird species can co-exist in asmall area of rainforest.

Widely recognized as a founder of conservation biology, Diamond hascontributed enormously to the preservation of endangered species by identifyingwhat makes some animal populations more vulnerable to extinction than others.

He also has applied his practical expertise to stem the acceleratingloss of the world's biodiversity. The government of Indonesian New Guineahired Diamond to design its national park system and adopted most of hisproposal.

Formally trained at Cambridge University in physiology and membranebiophysics, Diamond has also pursued a parallel career in ecology and evolutionarybiology. His imaginative work has won him a continuous stream of more than20 literary prizes and academic honors. He is a member of the NationalAcademy of Sciences, board member of the World Wildlife Fund, and foundingmember of the activist group, Club of Earth.

Diamond is the ninth UCLA faculty member to receive the National Medalof Science. Other awardees include physicist Dr. C. Kumar Patel (1996),biochemist Dr. Elizabeth Neufeld (1994), Nobel laureate Dr. Donald Cram(1993), chemist Dr. Richard Bernstein (1989), chemist Dr. Saul Winstein(1970), meteorologist Dr. Jacob Bjerkenes (1966), geophysicist Dr. WilliamRubey (1965), and physicist Dr. Julian Schwinger (1964).

Counting this year's recipients, the National Science Foundation hasbestowed 374 medals on leading U.S. scientists and engineers since Congressestablished the program in 1959.



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