This Year’s Golden Geese

Since tonight is the awards ceremony for the Golden Goose Awards, I thought I’d pass along some information on the research that is being recognized.  The idea is that these projects epitomize research that may not have looked promising at the time, but have since proven quite valuable.

Charles Townes’ work on the maser – The maser was a precursor to laser technology developed by Townes (along with others, though Townes was the only researcher involved throughout) during the 1950s.  While the laser amplifies light waves, the maser uses microwaves.  According to the citation, many scientists in the 1950s dismissed the potential applications of the maser.

Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie, and Roger Tsien on the biology behind a jellyfish’s glow – These three shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work in isolating the protein that provides some jellyfish with a green fluorescent glow, and refining the strength of that glow. This protein is used for many applications, mainly as a tracer to follow other proteins and other molecules as they proceed through various functions.  I suspect that some more outlandish uses of this protein still attract the sound-bite criticism that the Golden Goose Awards are trying to counter.

Jon Weber, Eugene White, Rodney White and Della Roy for determining the applicability of coral for bone grafts – Over several years in the 1960s and 1970s, the four honorees pieced together that coral, with some additional chemicals, could function as a material for bone grafts.  The coral has the additional benefit of having minimal immune response, as it’s biological material.  Compared to the other two groups recognized tonight, this work required some (small) leaps of imagination to connect electron microscope analysis of coral with work on developing synthetic bone graft material.

These three candidates are all worthy of recognition.  But as I noted earlier in the week, these examples need to be communicated more often than every year.  Should sound-bite research criticism come up in the future budget discussions, science advocates will need to have these three awardees (and perhaps some of the nominees?) ready to cite.

Strategy and tactics aside, congratulations to all of this year’s Golden Goose Award recipients.

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