Primatologist and Stanford University neuroscientist Robert M. Sapolsky has been named the recipient of Rockefeller University’s Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science for 2008. The award recognizes Sapolsky’s 2001 publication A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons and will be presented to him at a ceremony at the university’s Caspary Auditorium on June 2.
Established in 1993 by The Rockefeller University Board of Trustees, the prize is named after its first recipient — writer, educator and physician-scientist Lewis Thomas. The award honors “the rare individual who bridges the worlds of science and the humanities — whose voice and vision can tell us about science’s aesthetic and philosophical dimensions.” Past recipients of the award include Jared Diamond, Oliver Sachs, Edward O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins.
An alumnus of Rockefeller University, Sapolsky studied in the neuroendocrinology laboratory of Bruce S. McEwen. After receiving his Ph.D. in 1984, he began what has become a 30-plus-year research project observing a troop of baboons in the East African Serengeti Plain. His account of the experience, returning to Kenya for several months each year, is chronicled in A Primate’s Memoir, which won numerous awards and critical acclaim. He is also the author of four other award-winning books and over 400 scientific papers and is a frequent contributor to popular periodicals.
“Robert writes with a voice that is both self-deprecating and reverent of humanity,” says Paul Nurse, the university’s president. “Through his candor, his incisiveness and his humor, Robert evinces the delight that is inherent in scientific exploration and discovery. It is a great pleasure to recognize him with the Lewis Thomas Prize.”
In addition to his role as research associate at the Institute of Primate Research of the National Museums of Kenya, Sapolsky is an expert on the effects of stress on the brain and holds the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professorship in the departments of biological sciences and neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University and the department of neurosurgery at the Stanford School of Medicine. In addition to the Lewis Thomas Prize, Sapolsky has received a Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.