Paying it forward: Gift endows Innovation Prize in Biological Sciences

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Masatoshi Nei, Evan Pugh Professor of Biology and director of the Institute for Molecular Evolutionary Genetics at Penn State, and recent recipient of the Kyoto Prize, committed the $500,000 cash prize that accompanies this award to establish the Masatoshi Nei Innovation Prize in Biological Sciences.

"I donated the Kyoto Prize award money to enhance the quality of biological sciences at Penn State," Nei said.

The Kyoto Prize, an international award presented by the Inamori Foundation, recognizes individuals who have contributed significantly to the progress of science, the advancement of civilization, and the enrichment and elevation of the human spirit. The foundation honored Nei in recognition of his “research on the evolution of biological populations using qualitative analyses of genetic variation and evolutionary time.”

Daniel J. Larson, dean of the Eberly College of Science, commented, "It was an honor to attend the ceremonies in Kyoto, Japan, where Dr. Nei received the prize. Professor Nei's impressive accomplishments have added great strength to our college. The generous gift of the prize money will support the continuation of this excellence.”

Nei and his wife, Nobuko, created the Masatoshi Nei Innovation Prize in Biological Sciences to bring public recognition to Penn State and its excellence in the biological sciences. The award will provide a substantial prize to a preeminent scientist who is on the faculty at the University, who is acknowledged as an innovator in his or her field, who is actively engaged in research, and who has achieved outstanding scientific research and leadership in the biological sciences.

Department Head of Biology Doug Cavener noted, “This gift is a testament to the lifelong commitment of Masatoshi Nei to innovation and excellence in research. The Nei Innovation Prize will provide us the means to honor our most innovative and accomplished faculty in the biological sciences.”

Nei earned a bachelor's degree in genetics at the Miyazaki University of Japan in 1953, followed by master's and doctoral degrees in quantitative genetics at Kyoto University in Japan. He was an assistant professor at Kyoto University in Japan from 1958 to 1962, a geneticist at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Japan from 1962 to 1969, and head of the Population Genetics Laboratory at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Japan from 1965 to 1969. In 1969, he moved to the United States to become an associate professor and then professor at Brown University. In 1972 he became professor of population genetics at the University of Texas at Houston, until 1990. He served as the acting director of the Center for Demographic and Population Genetics at the University of Texas at Houston from 1979 to 1980 and from 1986 to 1987.

Nei joined the Penn State faculty in 1990 as Distinguished Professor of Biology and founding director of the Institute of Molecular Evolutionary Genetics, and was named Evan Pugh Professor of Biology in 1994. He was a visiting professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan for three months during 2001.

Nei’s gift will help the Eberly College of Science to reach its goals in the For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students. The University-wide effort is directed toward a shared vision of Penn State as the most comprehensive, student-centered research university in America. The University is engaging Penn State’s alumni and friends as partners in achieving six key objectives: ensuring student access and opportunity, enhancing honors education, enriching the student experience, building faculty strength and capacity, fostering discovery and creativity, and sustaining the University’s tradition of quality. The campaign’s top priority is keeping a Penn State degree affordable for students and families. The For the Future campaign is the most ambitious effort of its kind in Penn State’s history, with the goal of securing $2 billion by 2014.

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Last Updated March 31, 2014