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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 3, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 33
Grace Brush To Be Honored for Chesapeake Bay Research

Grace Brush in Maryland's Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Grace Brush, a Johns Hopkins scientist well-known for her work on the pre-Colonial ecology of the Chesapeake Bay, will receive the prestigious Mathias Medal on May 6 during a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Named for former U.S. Sen. Charles "Mac" Mathias of Maryland, who is widely credited with launching a federal-state partnership to restore the Chesapeake, the Mathias Medal is presented to scientists whose work has had a significant impact on policies affecting the bay. The medal is awarded by the Sea Grant programs of Maryland and Virginia and the Chesapeake Research Consortium and has been given only four times since its creation in 1990.

A professor in the Whiting School's Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, Brush is the first paleoecologist to win the award. She is also the first woman.

Brush pioneered studies that used the presence of plant pollen, microscopic organisms and other substances in bay sediments to track changes in the estuary and in the watershed that surrounds it. Her studies have provided the basis for much of our early understanding of how and when the forests surrounding the bay were first cleared, and how resultant shifts in sediment loads and water chemistry changed the bay and its ecosystem.

"When policy-makers attempt to compare the bay of the past with the bay of the future, they turn to the work of Grace Brush," says Maryland Sea Grant director Jonathan G. Kramer. Kramer calls Brush's work "pivotal" because it has detailed the story of the bay's response to human settlement, beginning with the clearing of the region's forests and continuing right up to the impacts of sewage treatment plants.

Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, concurs, saying, "There are many scientists working on the bay, but only a few who really influence you. Grace Brush is one of those few." Brush, she says, has been extremely helpful in identifying the impacts of land use changes on the bay. "Her work is very concrete. It's added to the quiver of facts you need to hit the target [of nutrient reduction]."

Ted Poehler, vice provost for research at Johns Hopkins, calls Brush a "cornerstone" of her department. "Grace has a long and impressive history at Hopkins," he says. "She helped others and helped to bring stability to that program and to [the study of] the Chesapeake Bay."

Poehler points out that Brush has set an important example for women in science. "Back in 1956, when she got her doctorate, the number of women in engineering fields was quite small," he says. "The women who did enter the sciences were more likely to enter biology or chemistry."

Researchers like Brush were really "pioneers," he says. "It was pretty lonely." Adds Poehler, "We need more role models like Grace."

Brush began her career in 1949, working as a technician for the Geological Survey of Canada, and later earned her doctorate in biology from Harvard. Brush came to Johns Hopkins in 1973 as a research scientist, and from 1976 to 1978 she also served as the administrator of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Power Plant Research Program.

Now a full professor at Hopkins, Brush has won awards for her teaching and scientific contributions, including the George E. Owen Teaching Award in 2001 and an Individual Award for Leadership in Environmental Stewardship from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Featuring Brush on its February 2004 cover, Johns Hopkins Magazine devoted an article to her work on paleoecology and the Chesapeake Bay. Brush also was featured in the summer 2002 issue of Chesapeake Quarterly, a magazine published by the Maryland Sea Grant College.

At 73, Brush, who has studied the bay for a quarter-century, says that the impacts that people have on the environment--so-called "anthropogenic" effects--have resulted in "one of the most extensive and intensive global disturbances that there has been."

Previous recipients of the Mathias Award are researchers Donald S. Pritchard, L. Eugene Cronin, Clifford Randall and William Hargis.


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