Reunion 2016 Kick-Off Honors Leaders in Engineering and Science

Jun 21 2016 | By Jesse Adams | Photo by Timothy Lee Photographers

Generations of Columbia engineers gathered at Low Library on June 3 to kick off Reunion Weekend and to celebrate the recipients of the School’s Pupin, Egleston, and Samuel Johnson Medals.

“Welcome home,” said Dean Mary C. Boyce, catching up alumni on the School’s interdisciplinary initiatives in what she called a “renaissance moment” for engineering. “As the public increasingly recognizes the impact of science and engineering, Columbia has become the place for partnerships across fields, with incredible collaborations across schools, faculty, and students.”

This year’s co-recipients of the Michael Pupin Medal, Columbia Engineering’s most distinguished honor, exemplify groundbreaking research at Columbia: Ronald Breslow, University Professor and a pioneer in designing and synthesizing new molecules with unusual properties, now in his 60th year at the University; and Paul A. Marx ’46CC, ’49PS, ’00HON, president emeritus of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a longtime member of Columbia faculty, renowned for developing new and more potent chemotherapeutic agents.

Recognizing the researchers, Executive Vice President for Research G. Michael Purdy highlighted Breslow’s and Marx’s collaborations exploring new compounds to fight cancer and even potentially to restore cancerous cells to normal, as well as the unprecedented step of awarding Pupin Medals—which recognize service of lasting and broad significance to society as a whole—to two recipients in the same year for the first time since the award was established in 1958.

“This is an important evening,” Purdy said. “Tonight we honor the curiosity and imagining that are constantly expanding the bounds of human knowledge and bringing benefits to all life on the planet.”

Rene B. Testa BS’60, MS’63, professor emeritus of civil engineering and president of the Columbia Engineering Alumni Association, presented the Thomas Egleston Medal to Sheldon Wiederhorn BS’56, an authority on the mechanics of stress and fracture whose work has contributed to shatterproof glass used on so many products, from the windows of spacecraft to smartphone screens, and ceramics used in a variety of electronics. First awarded in 1939 and given annually, the Egleston Medal is named for a key founder of the Columbia College School of Mines, which grew into today’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, and honors distinguished achievements in the profession.

Testa also presented the Samuel Johnson Medal to Ralph Izzo BS’78, MS’79, PhD’81, an influential thought leader on energy policy and chairman, president, and CEO of Public Service Enterprise Group, Inc. (PSEG). The Johnson Medal, named for the first president of King’s College, the forerunner of Columbia University, was established in 2007 to recognize distinguished achievement in a field other than engineering and the applied sciences.

The welcome dinner and awards presentation were hosted by Columbia Engineering and the Columbia Engineering Alumni Association.