For four decades of leadership in biomedical science—exemplified by pioneering discoveries in RNA biology, generous mentorship of budding scientists, and vigorous and passionate support of women in science.
The 2018 Lasker~Koshland Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science honors an individual whose lifetime contributions have engendered among her colleagues the deepest feelings of awe and respect. For four decades, Joan Argetsinger Steitz (Yale University) has provided leadership in biomedical science. She has made pioneering discoveries about RNA biology, generously mentored budding scientists, and vigorously and passionately supported women in science. She has generated a cascade of discoveries that have illuminated wide-ranging and unanticipated functions for RNA molecules within our cells, and has served as a role model in multiple ways, especially for rising female investigators. Steitz has campaigned for full inclusion of all members of the scientific community, fueled by the conviction that reaching this goal is necessary to ensure a robust and innovative scientific enterprise.
What Makes a Piece of Art or Science a Masterpiece?
Critics of art and philosophers of science have long wrestled with the question of what elevates a piece of art or a set of experiments to masterpiece status.
Award presentation by Harold Varmus
Most Lasker Prizes celebrate great discoveries by honoring those most responsible for making them. But the Special Achievement award celebrates great people who have met an especially imposing standard: their work and character inspire “the deepest feelings of awe and respect within the biomedical community.”
Acceptance remarks by Joan Argetsinger Steitz
I feel extremely privileged to have been a part of the 20th-century revolution in Biology. I was in junior high school in 1953 when the double-stranded structure of DNA was first proposed and by the time I reached college, it was still too new to have found its way into textbooks or courses. As an undergraduate at Antioch College, I was fortunate to be assigned a work-study job in Alex Rich’s lab at MIT. I recall being completely enthralled by learning about the DNA structure because it provided a possible molecular explanation for the genetic phenomena that had intrigued me in high school. Yet, I decided I should go to medical school since I had simply never encountered a female science professor or lab head. On the other hand, I did know several women physicians.
My goals changed only during the summer before I was to enter Harvard Medical School when I worked in the lab of cell biologist Joe Gall, then at the University of Minnesota. I was so exhilarated that I decided my future prospects did not matter. I wanted to make scientific discoveries and switched instead to the PhD program at Harvard.
2018 Special Achievement Award video