When it comes to awards recognizing major contributions to microbiology, my personal favorite is the van Leeuwenhoek Medal given by the Royal Dutch Society for Microbiology. Unlike most such accolades that are presented year after year, this honor has a long tradition of being awarded every ten years (more or less). I believe that by doing so, the members of the independent jury in charge of selecting the awardee can look at possible candidates with a much greater perspective of where their contributions fit in the history of microbiology. As an aficionado of the history of our discipline I look at the track record of this award, going back to 1877, and I have to say that the selection committees have by and large been right on the mark. Just look at the list of past recipients:
1877 Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg
1885 Ferdinand Cohn
1895 Louis Pasteur
1905 Martinus Beijerinck
1915 Sir David Bruce
1925 Félix d'Herelle
1935 Sergei Nikolaevitch Winogradsky
1950 Selman Abraham Waksman
1960 André Lwoff
1970 Cornelius Bernardus van Niel
1981 Roger Yate Stanier
1992 Carl Woese
2003 Karl Stetter
2015 Craig Venter
This is an amazing list. Yet, in some of those decades the choice had to be particularly difficult. For example, where is Robert Koch? 1895? But you couldn't take Pasteur off the list! And what about Jan Kluyver in 1935? But that would have Winogradsky out. Impossible! I can imagine the tough discussions that went on behind closed those. Then, I will confess that in one or two cases I do question the wisdom of the selection committee. But I'll say no more, history may prove me wrong.
Note that there are no women on this list. I am happy to say that has changed with the selection of a winner for 2023. Since the Medal traditionally had only been awarded every 10-12 years, was the Royal Dutch Society for Microbiology in a hurry to name a new recipient just seven years after the 2015 winner? Not so. Turns out that 2023 marks the 300th year since the death of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. So, it stands to good reason that this year the Medal be awarded, despite it being less that ten years since the last recipient. The Royal Dutch Society for Microbiology recently announced Jillian Banfield as the 2023 winner of the Medal. Bravo! In my opinion, Jill more than deserves this very important recognition. For several decades now, Jill's innovative approaches to microbial community analyses have been transformational for the discipline. Last Monday's post on the Borgs of Archaea highlighted but one of numerous amazing contributions from Jill's group that have covered virtually every aspect of the microbial world. All of us here at STC heartily applaud this selection and offer Jill our most heartfelt congratulations.
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