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SoCal Scientific Leaders Acknowledged

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The following Southern California scientists and policymakers, including Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, are among those listed in the third annual Scientific American 50 Awards.

The magazine's Board of Editors has compiled a diverse list of those who during 2003-2004 exhibited outstanding technology leadership in the realms of research, business and policymaking. A complete list of winners is located here.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

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Demonstrated the power of robots to explore the planets.

The many probes the Jet Propulsion Laboratory had prowling the solar system this year greatly advanced our knowledge of the planets

Joseph Ecker
Professor of plant biology, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, Calif.

Made pioneering contributions in plant genomics.

Future improvements in agriculture depend on determining the functions of plant genes. In 2003 Joseph Ecker and his group made important contributions by identifying a number of key signaling components in the ethylene pathway of Arabidopsis, a plant commonly used as a model for genetic studies.

Peter G. Schultz
Organic chemist, Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, Calif.

Expanded the genetic code's library of amino acids.

In the August 15, 2003, Science, Peter Schultz and his colleagues described how they engineered yeast that generated five such amino acids and wove them into proteins. Earlier, Schultz and others had genetically modified bacteria to produce unnatural amino acids. But yeast is a eukaryote, with a membrane-bound nucleus similar to the cells of humans. The team's accomplishment opens the door to applying the same techniques to higher organisms, potentially leading to new protein medicines.

and...Nancy Reagan

Nancy Reagan
Former First Lady

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Campaigned for stem cell research.

By last spring, political debate over embryonic stem cell research had grown polarized and repetitive, with battle lines largely drawn along party lines. But on May 9 former First Lady Nancy Reagan revitalized the discussion by calling on President George W. Bush to lift restrictions on research so that science could proceed. As a staunch supporter of Bush and the wife of an iconic Republican president whose death from Alzheimer's disease would come just a few weeks later, Mrs. Reagan's plea resonated across political boundaries.

R. Michael Alvarez and Ted Selker
Alvarez, professor of political science, California Institute of Technology; and Selker, associate professor of media arts and sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Recommended sweeping changes to overhaul U.S. voting systems.

Soon after Florida's bungled vote for the 2000 U.S. presidential election, the heads of Caltech and M.I.T. chose Michael Alvarez and Ted Selker to co-direct a new initiative, the Caltech-M.I.T. Voting Technology Project. The team of computing and political science experts was to examine ways to reform U.S. voting systems. Eight months later they released their first report, which documented a wide variety of problems and proposed policy and technical solutions.


Nissan North America
Gardena, Calif.

Deployed a driver-alert sensor system to keep vehicles safely inside traffic lanes.

Nissan's luxury division, Infiniti, has adopted for some of its models an innovative electronic system that warns a driver when a car veers out of a lane. Studies indicate that 55 percent of fatal accidents in the U.S. involve unintentional straying from lane to lane, which is typically caused by driver distraction, inattention or drowsiness. Developed by engineers at Valeo, a component supplier based in Auburn Hills, Mich., and Iteris, an Anaheim, Calif., maker of auto sensors, the new traffic-lane monitoring device alerts a driver when a vehicle wanders outside lane boundaries, a condition that is detected when he or she fails to engage the direction indicators.