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Three LGBT scientists to be honored in San Diego

SAN DIEGO -- Three LGBT scientists will collect honors at the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP) awards reception and ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 21.

The awards will be presented during the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting, which will be in San Diego. The awards will go to:

-- Jay Keasling, professor of chemical engineering at the University of California at Berkley, Engineer of the Year

-- Dr. Donna Riley of Smith College in Massachusetts, Educator of the Year

-- Dr. Jess Bering of Queens University in Belfast, Ireland, Scientist of the Year

The NOGLSTP bestows these awards annually, to acknowledge outstanding contributors of their respective field,s as well as for their sustained contributions to science, education and society.

Keasling might be the one to stop malaria in its tracks by finding a way to make the cure more affordable for developing countries. Keasling’s research involves re-engineering the anti-malarial drug artemisinin. By producing the drug from a microbe rather than the plant from which it comes, Keasling said the price of the drug can be reduced from $2.40 per dose to 25 cents per dose.

Keasling received a $42.5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in furtherance of his research.

Of the many roles that Riley plays in her life, none is probably more important than that of role model to GLBT students studying engineering. For that role, Riley was awarded the GLBT Educator of the Year.

Riley is a founding member of the Picker Engineering Program at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. Early on in the program’s history, GLBT engineering students found in Riley the role model that they needed, and they could talk to her openly about their lives.

Some students wrote to Riley expressing their feelings on how she has helped them navigate the engineering field and their gay status:

-- “I think knowing that you’re an open faculty member in engineering has really given me hope that maybe someday I’ll feel comfortable doing the same.”

-- “I think one of the big differences on this campus is that our sexual identities do not have to be hidden – this is one key thing we learn here.”

-- “Knowing that you are a GLBT faculty member made me feel like I had a safe space to talk about those kinds of concerns.”

Riley includes a focus on GLBT issues in her teaching and writing.

In a special diversity issue of the journal Leadership and Management in Engineering, Riley wrote an article introducing GLBT issues for engineers and helping to identify ways in which to make the workplace more GLBT friendly. Unfortunately, articles on GLBT issues often have trouble finding a home because in the field of engineering education, they can get lost in various categories such as “women in engineering” and “minorities in engineering.” However, with Riley at the helm, GLBT concerns in engineering won’t be lost for long.

Bering started his career in Florida as a volunteer at a primate recovery center where orangutans and chimpanzees were learning sign language. Bering’s research focused on analyzing the ways in which primate and human brains differ in the reasoning process.

Bering has also pursued other interests in a variety of subjects. He writes a monthly column in Scientific American called “Bering in Mind” to “promote public interest in science.” The columns display a range of interests, such as the social/psychological relationship of humans with dogs; the neural correlation between being gay and the inability to give directions; the ways in which the human brain is inclined to sustain a hardwired belief in God and creationism. Dr. Bering’s first book, Under God’s Skin, is scheduled to be published this spring.