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Rudolf Raff
Department of Biology

Last modified: Thursday, February 28, 2002

IU biologist wins medal from Russian scientific society

International honor awarded for the first time

The Council of the St. Petersburg Society of Naturalists in Russia has awarded the Medal of Alexander Kowalevsky to Rudolf Raff, Distinguished Professor of Biology and director of the Indiana Molecular Biology Institute at Indiana University. The society also elected Raff as an honorary member. The medal is being awarded for the first time after having been created in 1910. Raff is one of eight scientists in seven countries to share in the honor.

The award serves to recognize Raff as "one of the most distinguished scientists of the 20th century in the field of comparative zoology and evolutionary embryology," according to a letter from the society. The St. Petersburg Society of Naturalists, founded in 1868, is one of the oldest scientific societies in Russia.

Although the medal was cast about 90 years ago, it has never been awarded until now because of the disruptions of World War I, the Russian Revolution and ensuing civil war, and the Soviet era. The original medal was saved in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and in the State Mint, where even the original casting mold was preserved. The St. Petersburg Society of Naturalists recently discovered that the original mold still existed and decided to reinstate the international award using the original medal design.

In the future, the award will be given to one outstanding scientist each year for achievements in comparative and evolutionary embryology that have contributed greatly to the understanding of evolutionary relationships between major groups of the animal kingdom. However, to celebrate the award's reinstatement and to recognize the large range of scientific accomplishments in this area between 1910 and the present, the inaugural presentation honors eight internationally distinguished scientists. Raff is one of the two American honorees. The others are in Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany and Russia.

"Professor Raff has been a pioneer in the new discipline of evolutionary developmental biology, which recognizes that evolutionary changes in body form take place from generation to generation through modifications of the process of embryonic development," said Jeffrey Palmer, Distinguished Professor of Biology and chair of the IU Department of Biology. "He seeks to understand the large-scale and dramatic evolutionary changes that have taken place in animal body form over geologic time. Raff's research has concentrated on the use of gene sequence data to understand relationships among animal body plans, and on the study of how developmental mechanisms evolve, using marine embryos. He has discovered that early development is subject to unexpected and rapid evolutionary processes."

Raff joined the IU faculty in 1971. He founded the Indiana Molecular Biology Institute in 1983 and has been its director since that time.

Raff's honors include a National Institutes of Health Research Career Development Award (1975-1980), a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1987 and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000. He was instructor-in-chief of the Embryology Course at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., from 1980 to 1982. He has been active on numerous national committees and journal editorial boards and is editor-in-chief of the new journal Evolution and Development. He has published four books including The Shape of Life: Genes, Development and the Evolution of Animal Form.