Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Happy 150th Birthday, Academy of Sciences!

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Despite the contentious times in which they lived, President Lincoln and Congressional leaders recognized the value of science and the importance of an independent, nonprofit organization that could advise the government on scientific and technical matters.

It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and -- with the National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council -- provides science, technology, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

President Obama helped the National Academy of Sciences celebrate its 150th year of service, and reiterated his strong support for science and technology, by giving a speech yesterday at the group’s annual meeting.

"That’s our inheritance, and now the task falls to us. We, too, face significant challenges — obviously not of the magnitude that President Lincoln faced, but we’ve got severe economic and security and environmental challenges. And what we know from our past is that the investments we make today are bound to pay off many times over in the years to come. So we will continue to pursue advances in science and engineering, in infrastructure and innovation, in education and environmental protection — especially science-based initiatives to help us minimize and adapt to global threats like climate change."

More here and here.

Did you know...?
The National Academies Press (NAP) publishes the reports of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council. NAP publishes more than 200 books each year on a wide range of topics in science, engineering, and medicine, providing authoritative information on important matters in science and health policy. NAP offers more than 4,000 titles online as PDFs, which may be downloaded in full or by chapter.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Iraqi Engineer and Conservationist Azzam Alwash Wins Goldman Prize

Azzam Alwash has received the Goldman Environmental Prize for his work to reflood the marshes fed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and bring back the Marsh Arabs. It's one of six $150,000 awards that go to grass-roots environmental activists each year.

In 2003, this civil engineer and Iraqi immigrant living in Orange County moved back to Iraq to launch his ambitious environmental engineering project. Some say the marshes, an ecosystem twice the size of the Everglades, are the "historical" Garden of Eden. But during his 30-year reign in Iraq, Saddam Hussein transformed the marshland into a battleground. To punish political enemies, Hussein built canals with names such as Mother of Battles to drain water from marshlands and sap the lifeblood of the Marsh Arabs, a community of indigenous Iraqis who depended on the swamp to survive.

As a professional engineer, Alwash admits to having been in awe at what Saddam's men had done. "To drain 6,000 sq km of wetlands is an incredible engineering feet. It was an immense job. They had dug new rivers, intercepted the Tigris and rerouted the Euphrates away from the marsh. They had set fire to the reedbeds … It was sold by the regime as making more land available for agriculture when in fact he was trying to deprive his opposition of a base of operations. 70,000 refugees went to Iran, 30,000 to the US. The rest were displaced."

Alwash set up Nature Iraq as an NGO to focus on the restoration of the marshes and he offered his technical skills to tear down the giant embankments to flood the land. To gain the support of officials and sponsors, Alwash said he couched his argument in terms of the intrinsic value of services the marshlands could provide.

"This is environment in the service of humanity," Alwash said. "The marshes are an engine of economy."

Read more here.