President Clinton today announced Colorado State University researcher Mortimer Elkind and two other scientists won the Enrico Fermi Award, the federal government’s oldest science and technology honor.
Elkind, 74, will jointly receive the award with H. Rodney Withers, oncologist at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California at Los Angeles who worked with Elkind on improving radiation therapy of cancer. Richard Garwin, physicist at IBM Research in New York and a consultant to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M., is the third Fermi Award recipient.
The Fermi Award, created in 1956, recognizes a lifetime of achievement in the field of nuclear energy. The award honors the memory of Enrico Fermi, who led a group of scientists in 1942 that achieved a self-sustained, controlled nuclear reaction at the University of Chicago. Through the years, nuclear science has broadened to many other fields, including medicine, astronomy, archaeology and environmental science.
The presidential award carries a $100,000 honorarium and a gold medal to be presented by U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Federico Pena at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., in July.
"I am extremely honored to receive this award and to share it with other scientists who have made such outstanding contributions," said Elkind, a University Distinguished Professor in the department of radiological health sciences. "To receive the Enrico Fermi Award is most assuredly one of the highlights of my scientific career." Elkind was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and earned a doctorate degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He worked at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., and the Donner Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley. Elkind also was a professor of radiology at the University of Chicago and a senior biophysicist at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.
He joined Colorado State in 1981 as a professor and chairman of the former department of radiology and radiation biology. He was named a University Distinguished Professor, the highest honor given to faculty, in 1986.
Elkind has made significant scientific contributions in radiation therapy of cancer over the course of his 45-year career. Elkind worked with Withers, a practicing doctor, to describe the response of normal and malignant cells to ionizing radiation. Their findings led to a better understanding of how to adjust radiation exposures for maximum effect on tumors with minimum harm to normal tissue.
Elkind’s research helped initiate the scientific basis for current radiation therapy, which is administered to about one- third of all cancer patients worldwide. His contribution was so significant that the process by which cells repair radiation damage is commonly known as Elkind Repair.
His current research focuses on how cells are induced to become cancerous after exposure to radiation. His studies in radiation-induced breast cancer suggest that, unlike other tissues in the body, breast cells in susceptible women do not fully repair themselves–even when there are long periods between radiation exposures.
Elkind suggests that breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death in women today because of diagnostic radiation exposures such as mammography used 40 years ago, which could have been 10 to 20 times higher than current mammography exposures.
"We are proud to have a scientist and teacher of Dr. Elkind’s stature at Colorado State University," said Judson Harper, vice president for research and information technology. "His contributions to radiation science changed the way radiation exposures are delivered to patients. His tireless efforts continue to shed new light on the biological effects of radiation." The Fermi Award marks the second major honor given to Elkind this year. In April, Elkind traveled to Germany to receive the Roentgen-Plakette Award, given in honor of physicist Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, the discoverer of X-rays.
Elkind has received many other distinguished national and international awards throughout his career, including the E.O. Lawrence Award from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in 1967 and the Charles F. Kettering Prize from the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation in 1989. Elkind currently is a member on the board of directors of the National Coalition for Cancer Research.