Calling Kristina Olson a path-breaking researcher doesn’t begin to describe all the doors this year’s winner of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) most prestigious prize for young scientists has opened.
A social and developmental psychologist at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, Olson is the first person from her discipline to win the 42-year-old Alan T. Waterman Award. She’s also the first woman since 2004 to receive the $1 million prize. Although scientists from every field that NSF supports are eligible, only three social scientists—the previous two were men—have ever captured the Waterman, named after NSF’s first director.
Olson’s research on the social development of transgender youth has expanded the traditional boundaries of academic psychology. And her plans to use a big chunk of the prize money on a new summer internship program for undergraduate minority students also may be unprecedented for Waterman winners.
Even so, Olson is far from satisfied by that impressive string of firsts. “I don’t think a woman of color has ever won,” she says. (Two black scientists, both men, have been honored.) “My goal is to use the money to move us in new directions, because things aren’t going to just change on their own. And unless we make room for all of the best people, it will be hard to make progress on any of society’s problems.”
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