APS News

Foundation Marks Its Centennial at APS March Meeting

The Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement (RCSA), the oldest foundation dedicated purely towards funding scientific research, is marking the centennial of its founding at a reception at this year’s APS March Meeting. As part of the reception, Eric Mazur of Harvard will honor David Hall of Amherst College, recognizing him as the 2012 recipient of the APS Prize for a Faculty Member for Research in an Undergraduate Institution, a prize that is sponsored by RCSA.

RCSA is the second oldest private foundation in the US, after the Carnegie Foundation. Historically it has sponsored cutting-edge research, often with uncertain outcomes but with the potential to have a big impact on society. It was an early backer of Ernest O. Lawrence’s development of the cyclotron, and of Robert Goddard’s liquid-fueled rockets. Other technologies that have come out of basic research funded by RCSA grants include magnetic resonance imaging, nuclear medicine and lasers.

Over the years, the organization has supported more than 18,000 scientists, 40 of whom have gone on to win Nobel prizes including ten in physics.

A former physical chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, Frederick Gardner Cottrell established Research Corporation in 1912 using proceeds from his invention, the electrostatic precipitator, which helps to pull air pollutants out of smokestacks.

APS and RCSA have worked together to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in physics. The Corporation provided the seed money for the APS Edward A. Bouchet award, which each year recognizes the contributions of a distinguished minority physicist. In addition, the Corporation helped establish and continues to sponsor the Prize for a Faculty Member for Research in an Undergraduate Institution.

“RCSA and APS both believe in providing effective programs for the support and advancement of science,” said RCSA president and CEO James M. Gentile in a press statement. “We both encourage collaboration–among researchers and among scientific organizations–and we are both focused on improving science education and creating new and productive communities of scientists.”

RCSA has carved out a niche for itself as one of the premier sources of grants for students and researchers early in their career.

“Their idea is to help young scientists get started,” said Judy Franz, who served as APS Executive Officer from 1994 to 2009. “A lot of people started with their first grants from Research Corporation.”

She was among them. Franz got her research career started with a grant from Research Corporation in the late 1960s.

“It was wonderful because it was a way to get your first grant,” Franz said. “It wasn’t a huge grant but it was important to get it because at that point I was just starting, and I didn’t have any other funding.”

RCSA will hold its centennial event at the March Meeting in room 152 of the Boston Convention Center on February 28, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.

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Editor: Alan Chodos