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Ohio State honors four at winter 2009 commencement

COLUMBUS – Four individuals will be honored at Ohio State University's winter 2009 commencement for their contributions to society and academics, and their dedication to the university. Ceremonies begin at 1 p.m. Sunday (3/22), in St. John Arena.

Honorary doctorates will be presented to Charles Brain, one of the world's leading paleontologists; Jules Pretty, internationally recognized for his work on sustainable agriculture practices in more than 50 countries; and John G. Thompson, internationally renown mathematician. The university will also present the Distinguished Service Award to George W. Paulson, founder, retired professor and former chair of the Department of Neurology at Ohio State.

Charles K. Brain, Doctor of Science

One of the world's leading paleontologists, Charles Brain is emeritus curator of the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria, South Africa. He served as director of the museum from 1968 to 1991, leading it to international recognition as the country's premier natural history museum.

Dr. Brain received BS degrees in geology and zoology in 1950 and a PhD in geology in 1957 from the University of Cape Town. During his subsequent career, his research moved across the disciplines of earth sciences, paleontology, biology, anthropology, and zoology. He is best known for his pioneering work on taphonomy—the study of the processes of death, deposition, and fossilization.

He directed the paleontological excavation at Swartkrans Cave in South Africa, which ran for 35 years, producing 240,000 fossils. Through his meticulous documentation of each fossil, he determined that the earliest hominid ancestors of humans had not been powerful hunters, as previously thought, but ended up as prey of predatory leopards and saber-toothed cats. The cave also yielded evidence of the earliest use of controlled fire ever found, going back more than a million years, indicating that humans were evolving into increasingly intelligent creatures. His 1981 book Hunters or the Hunted? An Introduction to African Cave Taphonomy is considered a classic text in the field of paleoanthropology.

The author of some 200 publications in his fields of study, Dr. Brain continues in his retirement to study the origin and evolution of the earliest animals, searching for fossils of ancestral invertebrates in limestones of Namibia. In 2006, he received the South African National Research Foundation's Top Award for Lifetime Achievement. His many other recognitions include election as a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa and numerous honorary degrees. He currently serves as a research associate at the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research and as chief scientific advisor to the Palaeontological Scientific Trust (PAST), which raises money for paleontological research and education on an Africa-wide basis.

Jules Pretty, Doctor of Science

Jules Pretty is professor of environment and society in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom. He served as head of the department from 2004 to 2008.

He holds a BA in biology from the University of York (UK) and an MSc and DIC in environmental technology from the Imperial College in London. He joined the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in London in 1986 as a research associate in the Sustainable Agriculture Programme, becoming associate director and then director in 1991. During his 10 years at IIED, he helped shape the emerging field of sustainable agriculture.

Internationally recognized for his work on sustainable agriculture practices in more than 50 countries, he works to balance environmental integrity with the competing demands of economic growth and modernization. He has written more than 150 scholarly papers and authored, coauthored, or edited 16 books, including This Luminous Coast, published this year; The Earth Only Endures; The Earthscan Reader in Sustainable Agriculture; The Pesticide Detox; and Agri-Culture. He is chief editor of the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. A popular invited speaker, he has made more than 250 presentations at international conferences, universities, government agencies, and local groups.

Professor Pretty is a member, advisor, or trustee of numerous research and development
organizations in the United Kingdom and abroad. He is a fellow of the Institute of Biology and the Royal Society of the Arts and deputy chair of the British government's Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE). From 2001 to 2007 he served as A.D. White Professor-at-Large for Cornell University.

A regular contributor to local and national BBC and World Service radio networks, he was presenter and writer of a two-part radio series, "Ploughing Eden," for BBC Radio 4 in 1999, co-writer and presenter in a BBC TV Correspondent Series, The Magic Bean, in 2001, and a panelist for Radio 4's The Moral Maze in 2007.

He is the recipient of a 1997 international award from the Indian Ecological Society and, in 2006, received the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) award for services to sustainable agriculture.

John G. Thompson, Doctor of Science

John G. Thompson is Rouse Ball Professor Emeritus of Pure Mathematics at Cambridge University and Graduate Research Professor of Mathematics at the University of Florida.

Born in Kansas, he received his BA degree from Yale University in 1955 and his doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1959. After a year as an assistant professor at Harvard, he returned to Chicago, serving as professor of mathematics from 1962 to 1968. He joined the Cambridge University faculty in 1970, serving until 1993 when he moved to the University of Florida.

Professor Thompson's revolutionary ideas, first published in 1963 with Walter Feit, transformed the field of finite group theory, providing the intellectual fuel for a monumental project that culminated in 2004 with the classification of all finite simple groups. This has had an enormous impact not only in all areas of mathematics, but also in the chemical theory of crystals, the physical theory of quantum mechanics, and the national security field of cryptology and encryption in which several of Thompson's students and colleagues have played leadership roles.

As an internationally renowned mathematician, Professor Thompson has made further contributions to the Galois theory, representation theory, coding theory, and the theory of finite projective planes. He was awarded the 2008 Abel Prize by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters for his "profound achievements in algebra and in particular for shaping modern group theory."

In 1970, he was awarded a Fields Medal for his work in the theory of finite groups. The Fields Medal, awarded every four years at the International Congress of Mathematicians,
is the highest recognition that can be bestowed for mathematics research and is considered the equivalent of a Nobel Prize in this discipline.

He was also the recipient in 1965, along with Feit, of the Cole Prize from the American Mathematical Society. His other awards include the Senior Berwick Prize from the London Mathematical Society, the Sylvester Medal from the Royal Society, the Wolf Prize, and the Poincarè Prize. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1971 and the Royal Society of London in 1979. He was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2000.

George W. Paulson, Distinguished Service Award

George W. Paulson is emeritus professor of neurology and founder and former chair of the Department of Neurology at The Ohio State University. He served as chief of staff of University Hospital from 1993 to 1995.

Dr. Paulson received his BS in zoology in 1952 from Yale University and his MD in 1956 from Duke University. He joined the Ohio State College of Medicine staff in 1967 as an associate professor of neurology, earning a reputation as an expert clinician, teacher, and investigator, particularly of movement disorders. He was voted Teacher of the Year in 1971 by the graduating medical school class. That same year, he left the university to go into private practice, where he led a number of programs at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus and continued to teach medical residents.

In 1983 he returned to Ohio State to lead the new Department of Neurology, serving as chair until 1991. He was named holder of the Kurtz Endowed Chair in Neurology in 1983, a position he held until his 1999 retirement. He played a leading role in attracting a National Parkinson's Foundation Center of Excellence to Ohio State. He has published more than 250 articles, many editorials and abstracts, and six books.

Throughout his career, Dr. Paulson has won equal eminence as a historian of medicine and medical events at Ohio State and in Ohio, including works on deafness in people in Perry County; on William Thornton, MD, designer of the U.S. Capitol; the function and demolition of the large state hospital that stood on Sullivant's Ridge on Columbus' west side; a study of Ralph Fanning, an Ohio State professor of art history; and a biography of Arthur G. James. He was the principal moving force in the development of the Medical Heritage Center in Ohio State's Prior Health Sciences Library, and he helped develop and continues to teach a popular course on the history of Ohio State in the College of Humanities.

Dr. Paulson has served on a number of university and community committees, including the Rare Book Committee at Ohio State, and is former chair of the Medical Library Board at the university's Medical Center. He is currently president of the board of the State Library of Ohio.