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Environmental Factor, August 2015

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Wilson’s mentoring award celebrated

By Eddy Ball

Samuel Wilson

The award was especially meaningful, Wilson said, because he had worked closely with Kirschstein during her leadership of NIH. He also noted that the award helps NIEHS stand out among the institutes and centers at NIH. (Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)

Unique Cake made by Denise Appel

Biologist Denise Appel, of the NIEHS Genome Stability Structural Biology Group, made a unique cake, formed to resemble the three-dimensional structure of polymerase beta, an enzyme-DNA complex, with the playful addition of workers to depict its key role in DNA repair. (Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)

More than 100 colleagues and trainees turned out July 22 to show their appreciation for NIEHS lead researcher Samuel Wilson, M.D., and celebrate his National Institutes of Health (NIH) mentoring award, the latest in a long list of honors for his work at NIEHS.

Wilson is this year’s recipient of the prestigious Ruth L. Kirschstein Mentoring Award, the highest recognition at NIH for exemplary performance while demonstrating significant leadership, skill, and ability in serving as a mentor. Every year, each institute and center can nominate one candidate to receive the award.

Noting that the award will be officially made in September, NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., said, “I think it’s great that we went ahead to say, ‘Thank you, thank you’ [for your leadership, science, and mentoring].”

Wilson responded, “It’s a huge honor… for me and for the NTA [NIEHS Trainee Assembly] and the outstanding training program we have here.” Characteristically, he was quick point out his debt to others, naming several of his colleagues. “It [the award] really is for all of us.”

Following the footsteps of a great mentor

The award is named for pathologist and polio vaccine developer Ruth Kirschstein, M.D. , who served as director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and was the first woman to serve as a director of an institute. She was also deputy director of NIH in the 1990s and acting director of NIH in 1993 and 2000-2002. She died in 2009, and NIH published Kirschstein's biography, “Always There,” in 2011.

Kirschstein’s strong commitment to high-quality training is also reflected in other awards named for her, including the NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Ruth Kirschstein Diversity in Science Award. 

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Wilson heads the DNA Repair and Nucleic Acid Enzymology Group at NIEHS. He also served as deputy director of NIEHS  1996-2007 and acting NIEHS and NTP director 2007-2009. He was founding director of the Sealy Center for Molecular Science and director of the Center for Environmental Toxicology at the University of Texas Medical Branch 1991-1996, following service as a lead researcher with the National Cancer Institute.

(Eddy Ball, Ph.D., is a contract writer with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

  • Crowd in attendence

    Tammy Collins, Ph.D., center, was part of the crowd of trainees and colleagues who showed their appreciation for Wilson’s contributions to training at NIEHS. Collins, who was previously a postdoc at the institute, now heads the NIEHS Office of Fellows’ Career Development. (Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)

  • Birnbaum and Wilson

    Birnbaum and Wilson kept their comments brief, so attendees could have time to enjoy refreshments and socialize. (Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)

  • Darryl Zeldin,Perry Blackshear, and Joel Abramowitz

    NIEHS Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D., left, enjoyed mingling with the crowd and talking with lead researcher Perry Blackshear, M.D., D.Phil., center, and Joel Abramowitz, Ph.D., special assistant to the deputy scientific director. (Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)

  • Robert Petrovich and William Copeland about to serve cake

    Lead researcher Robert Petrovich, Ph.D., left, head of the NIEHS Protein Expression Core, paused to admire the cake before serving refreshments. He co-organized the event with William Copeland, Ph.D., head of the Genome Integrity and Structural Biology Laboratory. (Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)

  • Wilson Fellowshipping with Colleageues

    Wilson enjoyed the fellowship of colleagues during the event, including Mechanisms of Mutation Group head Roel Schaaper, Ph.D., right, and visiting fellow Mark Itsko, Ph.D. (Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)

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