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California Scientist of the Year
Frequently Asked Questions


Why is there a California Scientist of the Year Award?
In keeping with our mission to encourage public interest and understanding of science and technology, the Science Center honors leaders from California's scientific community by bringing their work to the attention of the public. By presenting this award each year, the Science Center helps news of the latest and most important scientific discoveries to reach the broadest possible audience.

How long has the California Scientist of the Year Award been around?
The first awards were given in 1958 to Heinz L. Fraenkel-Conrat, Ph.D. (for his work in DNA research) and William A. Fowler, Ph.D. (for his work exploring the nuclear reactions that formed the chemical elements in the universe).

Why were no California Scientists of the Year chosen in 1997 and 1998?
Preparations were underway for the opening of the new Science Center, so the California Scientist of the Year program was temporarily put on hold.

How does a scientist get nominated?
The Science Center sends out nomination forms to universities, research institutions and corporations all over California to make sure that scientists find out about the award. Coworkers or friends of qualified scientists usually nominate candidates for the award, but scientists are also allowed to nominate themselves. The nomination form asks what contributions the nominee has made in his or her field and how those discoveries benefit society. Usually, the person nominating a scientist includes copies of articles published by the nominee, as well as letters from other scientists explaining why they think the candidate would make a good California Scientist of the Year.

Who can be nominated?
People can be nominated from any science field, including mathematics, technology and the physical and biological sciences. Even scientists whose work can't be published for security reasons can be nominated. But of course, to be nominated the scientist has to live and work in California!

Can I nominate a scientist?
If you would like to nomintate a scientist, please download the nomination form. Because the nomination form requires specific information about the candidates, nominating a scientist you don't know yourself would be very difficult. But if you have heard of a scientist you think would make a great California Scientist of the Year and you can't nominate them yourself, you may want to contact the company or college the scientist works for to let them know about the California Scientist of the Year Award.

Are there any scientists that can't be nominated?
Scientists can't win the California Scientist of the Year Award more than once, and they also can't be nominated if they have already won a Nobel Prize, Atoms for Peace Award, Fermi Prize, Pulitzer Prize or Fields Medal.

How does the Science Center pick the winner?
To select a winner, a seven-person jury made up of senior scientists from diverse academic backgrounds and institutions carefully reviews all the nominations to see which scientist's research has made the biggest current contribution in his or her field of science–and to science in general. Their research could have added new knowledge to their field, or it could have led to better technology in their area of science. However, the winner's research should have been done during the past five years so the award can highlight the latest advances in California science. Unlike other well-respected prizes, the California Scientist of the Year Award is not a lifetime achievement award because it emphasizes recent discoveries.

Is there ever a tie?
Very rarely are two people awarded the California Scientist of the Year title in a single year because the jury's task is to select one winner. However, if two scientists working separately and independently make the same discovery, or if two separate discoveries are equally important and apply to the same scientific problem, the award can be shared. Because scientific discoveries and technological advances are often the result of team effort, the award jury often has to choose the person who is most responsible for the discoveries made by the team.

What does the California Scientist of the Year win?
The winner receives $5000 and is honored at a special VIP evening reception followed by a formal banquet held at the Science Center.

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