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
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
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
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
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.