Bess B. Ward granted 2012 Procter & Gamble Award

Wednesday, Apr 11, 2012

Bess B. Ward, Geosciences ChairThe American Society for Microbiology has announced Bess B. Ward, Department of Geosciences Chair, the 2012 Procter & Gamble Award in Applied and Environmental Microbiology laureate. The award recognizes distinguished achievement in research and development in applied and environmental microbiology. Nominator Douglas Capone, University of Southern California, credits Ward “as being a sustained and substantial influence on the field of marine microbiology over her career, directly through her seminal efforts defining the physiology, biogeochemistry, and molecular phylogeny of organisms responsible for key processes in the marine N cycle, nitrate reduction, nitrification, and denitrification, as well as through her mentoring and leadership.”  Significantly, Capone furthers explains that “Ward is currently in hot pursuit of factors which control the activity of denitrifiers and anaerobic ammonium oxidizers in the major oxygen minimum zones of the world’s oceans.”

Bess Ward has been chair at the department for six years. Ward received her undergraduate degree in zoology at Michigan State University, Lansing, and her Ph.D. in Oceanography from the University of Washington, Seattle. She then held postdoctoral and research scientist positions at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. Ward next joined the Department of Ocean Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz as an assistant professor, becoming department chair after six years, before moving to Princeton.

Ward’s research focuses on the marine and global nitrogen cycle, using molecular biological investigations of marine bacteria and bacterial processes. A major and continuing theme in her work is nitrification and denitrification, topics that have seen many important developments in recent years. She continues to work on nitrogen cycling in low oxygen regions of the world ocean. Her other studies include methane oxidation and N utilization by phytoplankton. Her signature approach is to combine biogeochemical approaches, typified by the use of stable isotopes to quantify the rates of nitrogen cycle processes, with molecular biological methods in order to link the rates of important transformations with the microbes that are responsible for them. “Her approach has been to simultaneously quantify the relevant fluxes using tracer techniques and the diversity and distribution of the operative microorganisms and functional enzymes,” described Francois Morel, colleague Geosciences professor. “Her results have played a central role in forging our present understanding of the marine N cycle.”

A Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, Ward has also been honored with a Fellowship in the American Geophysical Union and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences award. In 1997, she received the G. Evelyn Hutchinson Medal from the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography making her the first women and the youngest person ever to receive such an award.

Ward provides mentoring to her students and post-docs at Geosciences Ward Lab, while also authoring over 100 research papers and book chapters, editing volumes of articles, and serving on journal editorial boards. Many which can be viewed on this website -

Ward will be commemorated at the ASM General Meeting in San Francisco (June 16 - 19, 2012),
where she will deliver the Procter & Gamble Award Lecture titled "Biogeochemical Cycling: Past, Present and Future" on Monday, June 18.

François Morel summarizes, “In my view, the caliber of Ward’s work, which has always been very high, keeps increasing—as seen in her elegant 2009 paper in Nature quantifying the relative importance of denitrification and anammox in the oxygen minimum zones of the Pacific and Indian oceans. She is clearly a leader in environmental microbiology—one who richly deserves this recognition.”