AMHERST, Mass. - Lynn Margulis, Distinguished University Professor of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, will receive the Desert Research Institute''s 1998 Nevada Medal. The award will be presented in Las Vegas April 23. Announcement of the award was made yesterday by Nevada Gov. Bob Miller.
The medal and $10,000 prize are sponsored by the shareholders of Nevada Bell and are awarded annually to an outstanding scientist or engineer.
Margulis, a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1983, is internationally known for her research on the evolution of the small forms of life, including the role of bacteria in influencing and regulating biological processes and environmental conditions. She has been a member of the UMass faculty since 1988.
Margulis will present public lectures on "Gaia to Microcosm" at the University of Nevada, Reno on April 22, and at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on April 23.
In his announcement, Gov. Miller said, "Professor Margulis has truly advanced the scientific world into a new frontier. Her work is a major step toward understanding many of the mysteries of our earth and the planets of our solar system."
Margulis is the leading proponent of the idea that symbiogenesis, the merger of previously independent life forms, is as important to the process of evolutionary change as the more prominent "survival of the fittest" doctrine of competition among organisms. Her 1981 book, "Symbiogenesis in Cell Evolution," (second edition, 1993) is considered a classic of 20th century biology.
Considered revolutionary when first proposed, this concept has since become widely accepted among scientists. It is also a fundamental part of the "Gaia hypothesis" of the Earth which she has developed in concert with British scientist James E. Lovelock.
Initially met with skepticism in the mid 1970s, the Gaia concept - named for the Greek goddess of the Earth - is now gaining worldwide attention from researchers. It proposes that life, especially microorganisms and plants, provide the Earth with natural, self-regulating mechanisms for such factors as surface temperature and the chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans.
Margulis''s current research interests, mainly sponsored by NASA, are focused on trying to reconstruct the nature of microbial evolution to help assess what might be discovered on other planets. She has also published more than 130 scientific papers as well as co-authoring several popular books on science for non-technical audiences with her son, Dorion Sagan.
Margulis is also a member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, holds six honorary doctorates from other universities, and is fluent in Spanish and French. With support from the Richard Lounsbery Foundation of New York City, she also contributes extensively to science education from the primary through university levels with the distribution of written and multimedia instructional materials.