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Haus, Rich to get Medal of Science

Two internationally recognized MIT researchers have been chosen to receive the Medal of Science from President Clinton at White House ceremonies on October 18, the National Science Foundation announced today, September 27.

The recipients, both pioneers in their fields, are Institute Professor Hermann A. Haus of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Research Laboratory of Electronics and Alexander Rich, the William Thompson Sedgwick Professor of Biophysics in the Department of Biology.

Professor Haus is noted for his foundational work in quantum optics, Professor Rich for his contributions to the development of molecular biology.

The selection of Professors Haus and Rich brings to 19 the number of MITfaculty who have received the Medal of Science. Others are Manson Benedict,Vannevar Bush, Morris Cohen, Charles S. Draper, Mildred S. Dresselhaus,Harold E. Edgerton, Herman Feshbach, Har Gobind Khorana, Edwin H. Land,Warren K. Lewis, Salvador E. Luria, Bruno B. Rossi, Claude E. Shannon, IsadoreM. Singer, John G. Trump, Victor F. Weisskopf and Norbert Wiener.

"Herman Haus and Alex Rich personify the MIT faculty's tradition of excellence and scientific leadership," President Charles M. Vest said. "Professor Haus's pathbreaking work in quantum optics has ranged from basic science to the engineering aspects of this important contemporary field. Professor Rich has worked at the core of molecular biology since its inception, contributing powerfully to the devlopment of our outstanding biology department.The entire MIT community shares both personal and professional pride in this important recognition of our colleagues' accomplishments."

Both Professor Rich and Professor Haus have been honored by their colleagues by being selected the James R. Killian Faculty Achievement Lecturer, Professor Rich in 1980 and Professor Haus in 1982.

The research and teaching of Dr. Haus has ranged from fundamental investigations of quantum uncertainty as manifested in optical communications to the practical generation of ultrashort optical pulses (10,000 times shorter than a billionth of a second). Ultrashort laser pulses find applications in eye surgery and instrumentation, as well as in fiber optic communications.

The fiber optical undersea cables that provide rapid voice and data communications among the United States, Europe and Asia are beneficiaries of the pioneering investigations of Professor Haus and fellow researchers at AT&T Bell Laboratories and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Research Laboratories. They developed the novel "soliton" method of transmission, work that opened new possibilities for transmitting voice and data signals across an ocean without repeating. Repeating is the process in which signals are detected and regenerated every 100 kilometers or so in order to avoid signal deterioration. In the soliton method of transmission, the signal can be sent from coast to coast without repeaters, that is, without detection and regeneration, thus simplifying the method and permitting higher rates of signal transmission.

In 1994, the Optical Society of America recognized his contributions with its Frederic Ives Medal, the society's highest award.

"The hallmark of Dr. Haus's analytic work is that it goes beyond solving the question of the moment.," said the Killian Award citiation. "He regularly generates new insights and analytical tools with considerably wider application than the immediate. His talents enable him to bridge the gap between fundamental science and engineering applications, regularly putting novel engineering concepts on firm, theoretical ground, and where necessary, developing new methodologies to clarify and extend understanding."

Professor Haus has written or co-written five books and nearly 300 articles. In recent years he has been invited to present his work at virtually every major conference and symposium on laser and quantum electronics and quantum optics around the world.

He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and the Optical Society of America.

He has won numerous awards, has been both a Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellow and has received several honorary doctorate degrees.

Dr. Haus was born in Slovenia in 1925. He received the BS degree from Union College, Schnectady, NY, in 1949 and the MS degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1951. He received the doctorate in science at MIT in 1954, the same year he joined the faculty as an assistant professor. He became an associate professor in 1958 and a full professor in 1962.

He has been a visiting professor or consultant at a number of corporations, universities and laboratories, including Raytheon Corp., Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, Cambridge University, AT&T Bell Laboratories, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Research Laboratories, Bell Communications Laboratories, Technische Universitat in Vienna, Tokyo Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley.

He and his wife, Eleanor, live in Lexington. They have four children.

Professor Rich has long been recognized as a preeminent researcher in structural molecular biology, a field which seeks to understand the molecular architecture of living organisms. His work has advanced the understanding of the role and functions of RNA and DNA in heredity.

In 1979, he led a team of researchers at MIT which startled the world of structural biology with the announcement that they had found a "left-handed" form of the basic genetic molecule of life, DNA. The new form, coiled in the shape of a left-handed screw, was called Z-DNA because of its zig-zag backbone, but its purpose remained a mystery for many years.

Then in August of this year, researchers led by Professor Rich reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the discovery of the first biological role for left-handed Z-DNA. The work details the identification of a protein that binds tightly to Z-DNA. The protein has long been recognized as an "editor" which can change the genetic message of RNA. Its affinity for Z-DNA may help it find genes that are producing the messenger RNA which it "edits."

Dr. Rich's pioneering work started in 1955 when, together with a colleague, he deduced the three-dimensional, triple helical structure of collagen, the major fibrous protein of skin and connective tissue.

One year later as a section chief in physical chemistry at the NIH, he and another colleague discovered that two single-stranded nucleic acid molecules could spontaneously and specifically combine to form a double helix. This was the first hybridization reaction, a reaction which in various forms became a major technique in the development of molecular biology. In 1957, his group discovered that nucleic acids could form triple helices, a finding widely used in biotechnology today.

At MIT in 1960 Professor Rich discovered that an RNA strand and a DNA strand could form a double helix, which helped explain the way nature makes messenger RNA copies from DNA.

He led student researchers in 1962 to the discovery of polysomes, the clusters of protein synthesis machinery held together by a messenger RNA molecule. These are the functional units used by cells to translate genetic information into proteins.

In 1973 and 1974 he and his students solved the three-dimensional structure of the first macromolecular RNA molecule, transfer RNA. This is a key component in protein synthesis that bridges the gap between the genetic message and the growing protein chains.

Born in Hartford, Conn., in 1924, Dr. Rich served with the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1946. He received the AB in biochemical sciences, magna cum laude, from Harvard University in 1947 and was awarded the MD, cum laude, from Harvard Medical School in 1949.

From 1949 to 1954 he was a research fellow in chemistry with Linus Pauling at Gates and Crellin Laboratories at the California Institute of Technology. He was a visiting scientist at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, England, in 1955-56 and served as chief of the section on physical chemistry at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, MD, from 1954 to 1958.

He joined MIT in 1958.

From 1969 to 1980 Professor Rich was an investigator in NASA's Viking Mission to Mars, working on experiments designed to look for life on that planet.

Professor Rich's many awards and honors include election to the National Academy of Sciences, the Philosophical Society, the French Academy of Sciences, the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (the Vatican). He has received several honorary degrees as well as the Rosenteil Award in Basic Biomedical Research and the Presidential Award of the New York Academy of Sciences.

The author of 500 publications, Dr. Rich is also co-editor with Norman Davidson of a book, Structural Chemistry and Molecular Biology (Freedman and Co., San Francisco, 1968).

He and his wife Jane live in Cambridge, Mass They have four children.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 27, 1995.

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