Photo of Maxine F. Singer

Maxine F. Singer

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For her outstanding scientific accomplishments and her deep concern for the societal responsibility of the scientist.

Pioneer is an oft-used word. For her work as a bench scientist, leader in science policy issues, advocate for women in science and visionary for improving informal science education especially in the inner-city, Maxine Singer is the embodiment of the word — pioneer.

Singer was one of the scientists working at the forefront of molecular biology, focusing on nucleic acids. She realized that these building blocks within living organisms would be fundamental to our understanding of diseases and potential cures.

Molecular biology research continued to move at a fast clip and in the early 1970’s, the scientific community was in the throes of debate about recombinant DNA—its risks and its rewards. Singer helped organize the 1975 Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA and was one of five scientists and the only woman to sign the summary agreement.

“It was a very difficult time for all of us, but I think we succeeded in what we were trying to do, which was to de-mystify things, and have reasonable regulations but not legislation,” stated Singer.

For 13 years, Singer served as President of the legendary Carnegie Institution for Science [then Carnegie Institution of Washington], its first and only woman President to date. From a pair of telescopes atop in the Atacama Desert of Chile to introducing DC grade schoolers to hands-on science, Maxine Singer continued to bring “First Light” to science and to the local Washington DC education community.

By Barbara Valentino