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Philip Abelson honored by Carnegie Institution and WSU

Former Carnegie Institution president and Washington State University physics alumnus, Philip Abelson, will be honored Wednesday at a special Carnegie Institution symposium marking his 90th birthday.

The symposium, which is being held at the Institution in Washington D.C., will include a presentation to Abelson of the WSU Foundation Outstanding Service Award by former College of Sciences Dean Leon Radziemski. The award is given annually to recognize individuals who have rendered outstanding service to WSU and to the WSU Foundation. Abelson’s contributions include, according to one of his nominators, “bringing WSU’s world class academic and research programs to the attention of the worldwide community of scientists and scholars,” and making personal financial contributions that created ten graduate fellowships, a distinguished professorship in physics, and an undergraduate scholarship in honor of his mother.

A Tacoma native and graduate of Lincoln High School, Abelson earned both is bachelor’s degree in chemistry and his master’s degree in physics at WSU. In 1939, he earned a doctorate in nuclear physics from the University of California, Berkeley. His scientific interests were wide ranging and he made contributions in chemistry, physics, biochemistry, geophysics and medicine. Through service on many national committees, he was a prominent player in shaping national science policy. During the Manhattan Project he worked in uranium separation processing, fission products identification and was instrumental in the development of the nuclear submarine. He served as president of the Carnegie Institution from 1971 to 1978 and, for 23 years, he was editor of Science magazine, where he is currently editor emeritus.

Nationally Abelson has been honored with many major awards. He received the President’s National Medal of Science, a Distinguished Public Service Award from the National Science Foundation and the Science Achievement Award from the American Medical Association. In 1945, he received the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal.

Abelson’s wife, Neva, who is also a graduate of WSU, had an outstanding career as a scientist. She was one of the first women to graduate with a medical degree from Johns Hopkins University; she is most noted as the co-developer of a crucial test for the Rh factor in blood. She died in 2000.

At WSU, Abelson received the first Regents Distinguished Alumnus award as well as the College of Sciences Distinguished Alumnus award. In 2002, WSU’s Science Hall was renamed Abelson Hall in honor of the couple.

Previous recipients of the WSU Foundation award are ABC sportscaster Keith Jackson, Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen, and Seattle television news anchor Kathy Goertzen.

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