U prof wins $100,000 international award

With the announcement of being awarded the 2008 International Prize of Biology, University professor David Tilman finds himself in the company of many leaders in the science field. âÄúI smiled for a long time,âÄù Tilman said of receiving the award. âÄúI really admire some of the people who have won the award earlier, like Edward Wilson and Peter Raven, who are the two people who won in my field before.âÄù The award is given to an individual in a different field of biology each year. Tilman is the first scientist to win the award for work in ecology in 15 years, when Wilson received the 1993 honor. The award ceremony will be held on Dec. 8 in Tokyo. Tilman will receive a medal, an imperial gift from Emperor Akihito of Japan and 10 million yen, or about $100,000. The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science created the award in 1985 in honor of the then-Emperor ShowaâÄôs lifelong interest in and support for biological science. Tilman received the award for his work in biodiversity and biofuels research. âÄúI love asking what I believe are the really big, unanswered questions in the discipline,âÄù Tilman said. âÄúI especially enjoy asking questions when they relate to major global environmental problems that we face.âÄù University research associate Jason Hill has worked with Tilman for the past four years, researching biofuels. âÄúDaveâÄôs research has always been ahead of the curve,âÄù Hill said. His research shows how biofuels created from diverse prairie grasses are more efficient and better for the environment than food-based systems that create fuel from soy beans and corn. âÄúOn average, mixtures of 16 native prairie plant species give 238 percent more biomass than an average single species,âÄù Hill said, saying the mixture of grasses is a more efficient fuel than soy beans or corn. âÄúBiofuel issues and their environmental impact is very much in the news as people are becoming increasingly concerned about climate change and look for ways to reduced it,âÄù Joe Fargione said of TilmanâÄôs research. âÄúThe work is hugely important because of the large demands that are required if we want to produce biofuels.âÄù Fargione started working with Tilman as a graduate student at the University in 1998 and has carried on working steadily with him since graduating with his doctorate degree in 2004. âÄúHe is a big-picture thinker, always asking how his work affects society and how it might be applied to solve societal problems,âÄù Fargione said. Tilman said his research has not always been well-received. Earlier this year, his report stating that growing biofuels could actually worsen global warming prompted two soybean groups to stop paying research money. The matter was later resolved. âÄúWhenever you propose a new idea, there are many people who donâÄôt agree with you,âÄù Tilman said, adding the situation was one where a group of people thought they were doing something that was good for the environment and it turned out to be not as good as it had originally seemed. Tilman said he is now turning his efforts toward finding out how to meet the doubling or tripling demand for food in the next 50 years. “Dave is at the forefront of his field,” Hill said. “He knows the questions to ask, he asks them with great foresight, and he knows the methods he needs to get the answers. Those are the really successful scientists.”