Science group to honor Silber, Israel


Two noted Jewish scientists will be honored with awards by the Academy of Science of St Louis on April 16.

Fertility specialist Dr. Sherman Silber and astrophysicist Dr. Martin Israel will be presented with the awards at the 14th annual Outstanding St. Louis Scientists Awards Dinner gala banquet, on April 16 in the Starlight Room of the Chase Park Plaza.

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Sherman Silber is receiving the 2008 James B. Eads Award, given for innovation in engineering, technology or an outstanding project with major impact. Martin Israel is being awarded the 2008 Fellows Award, presented to a practicing scientist with a record of excellence in communicating to fellow scientists and mentoring future scientists. Both will also become Fellows of the Academy, as well.

Silber is world-famous as a fertility specialist, author of the best-selling How To Get Pregnant. Silber has been a leading innovator in the field of infertility and a pioneer in microsurgery to reverse vasectomy. He also performed the first testicle transplants and participated in the first ovary transplant. Silber is a leader in in-vitro fertilization, sperm retrieval, tubal ligation reversal and egg and embryo freezing.

Silber treats patients for infertility problems at his clinic at St. Luke’s Hospital in St. Louis County but is also at the facility at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

In addition to his best-selling book for the layperson, Silber has written textbooks on the subject and traveled the world speaking to other researchers about his groundbreaking work. He has appeared on TV shows such as Oprah and The Today Show.

Silber also collaborates in conservation efforts, with the St. Louis Zoo and other organizations, on fertility issues of endangered species. In one case, Silber was able to restore fertility in a zoo animal from a species thought to have become extinct in the wild. The species, the Przewalski’s Horse or Mongolian Wild Horse, is a relative of the familiar domesticated horse found near the Gobi Desert. After the species vanished in the wild, one zoo sought Silber’s help to restore fertility of a captive Przewalski’s Horse.

Since then, a breeding population has been reintroduced into the wild.

Sherman Silber emphasized that careers should not be pre-planned but remain open to change. “I planned to do kidney transplants,” said Silber.

By chance, he realized that the microsurgery techniques he had developed for kidney transplants could be used to reverse vasectomies. Once word of the successful surgery got out, there was a firestorm of media attention and Silber found himself launched on a new career path and international recognition.

“It is important to be open to new opportunities in your career,” he said.

Martin Israel’s work is cosmic. The professor of physics at Washington University is a specialist in astrophysics, whose area of focus is cosmic rays. The astrophysicist has vast experience in use of balloon- and satellite-borne instruments for study of cosmic rays.

“We call them ‘cosmic rays’ for historical reasons but in fact they are really particles,” said Israel. The galactic cosmic rays Israel studies are highly energized atomic nuclei. The particles, which travel at nearly the speed of light and originate outside the solar system, reveal information about the formation of stars and the elements that make up our universe, and ourselves.

“We are star stuff,” said Israel, quoting astronomer Carl Sagan.

Israel has worked with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center on several projects. One of Israel’s current projects is called TIGER (Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder). TIGER measures the rarer elements heavier than iron in cosmic rays, in experiments using balloons over Antarctica.

Many of the projects the professor has worked on have fanciful names, such as CRIS (Cosmic Ray Isotope Spectrometer) and ACE (Advanced Composition Explorer). “They come up with the acronyms first,” quipped Israel.

Martin Israel is much admired as a teacher at Washington University, and as a mentor to budding scientists and for his collaborative efforts with other researchers. This high regard contributed to his nomination for the Academy’s Fellows Award.

Although he came to Washington University from CalTech, Martin Israel grew up in Chicago. He was inspired to become a physicist by his many trips to Chicago’s Adler Observatory and an encounter with physicist Dan Poser, who had a show on the local PBS station.

As it turns out, Silber and Israel are friends as well as co-honorees for awards. Both men expressed special pleasure that they are being honored the same evening by the organization. “It will make it all the more enjoyable,” said Silber. Although their scientific fields are very different, both of them expressed great admiration for and interest in the work of the other, with Silber going as far as to call Israel “a genius.”

However, both Israel and Silber emphasized that their successes were really the work of their research teams and of collaborations with fellow scientists.

The Academy of Science-St. Louis awards came as a surprise to both scientists. “A letter about the award just arrived in the mail. It was not expected at all,” said Silber about being notified that he would be recognized with the James B. Eads Award. Scientists are nominated for the award and typically are unaware they are even being considered until the award winners are announced.

The 152 year-old Academy of Science of St. Louis focuses on recognizing scientific accomplishment and promoting understanding of science in the St. Louis area. Educational efforts include sponsoring science lectures, exhibits and television productions. It promotes science to young people through the Junior Academy of Science and the Greater St. Louis Science Fair. More than 120 prominent St. Louis scientists are Fellows in the organization including prominent members of the Jewish community such as Washington University professors Alan Templeton and Yoram Rudy.

Tickets to the awards dinner are available through the Academy of Science-St Louis and funds raised go to the Junior Academy of Science, which offers teens hand-on experience with cutting-edge science.