Stanford scientists Albert Bandura and Stanley Falkow to receive the National Medal of Science

Two members of the Stanford faculty, Albert Bandura, professor emeritus of psychology, and Stanley Falkow, professor emeritus of microbiology and immunology, have been awarded the 2015 National Medal of Science. The honors were announced today by the White House.

Bandura is the David Starr Jordan Professor, Emeritus, in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and Falkow is the Robert W. and Vivian K. Cahill Professor in Cancer Research, Emeritus, in the School of Medicine. They will receive their medals at a White House ceremony in January.

“We congratulate both emeriti professors Stanley Falkow and Albert Bandura on this extremely well-deserved honor. We are so proud that they have been recognized for their contributions not just to our country but to humanity,” said Stanford President John Hennessy. “Their lifetime of work in preventing infectious disease and in learning how we can understand and change behavior has been instrumental in helping people around the world lead healthier, more productive and more peaceful lives.”

Bandura, a member of the Stanford faculty since 1953, is renowned for his groundbreaking work in social cognitive theory and self-efficacy. He was the first to prove that self-efficacy, a belief in one’s capabilities, affects the tasks one chooses, how much effort is put into them and how one feels while doing them.

He also found that people learn not only as a result of their own beliefs and expectations but also by “modeling” or observing others, an idea that led to the development of modern social cognitive theory.

“After realizing that the call was not a prank staged by my colleagues, this stellar honor still feels surreal to me,” Bandura said. “The science medal also recognizes the far-reaching contributions of the discipline of psychology to human enlightenment and human betterment.”

Falkow, who joined the Stanford faculty in 1981, is being recognized for his pioneering work in studying how bacteria can cause human disease and how antibiotic resistance spreads.

He is well known for his work on extrachromosomal elements called plasmids and their role in antibiotic resistance and pathogenicity in humans and animals. As a graduate student in the early 1960s, first at the University of Michigan and later at Brown University, and then as an independent researcher at Georgetown University, he learned the biochemical and microbiological techniques necessary to deduce how bacteria transmit antibiotic resistance to one another. In particular, he found that some bacteria were resistant to antibiotics to which they had never been exposed, which at first confounded researchers. Falkow subsequently discovered that bacteria gained their resistance by sharing their genes much more promiscuously than had been thought possible.

Falkow said he learned of the award last week in an email from John Holdren, chief science adviser to President Barack Obama.

“It was a total surprise,” Falkow said. “I always say, ‘In science, it’s not “I,” it’s “we.”‘ And it’s so true. There are hundreds of students and colleagues around the world with whom I’d like to share this honor.”

Falkow and Bandura are two of nine recipients of the National Medal of Science, which is awarded annually to people who have made outstanding contributions to chemistry, engineering, computing, mathematics, and the biological, behavioral/social and physical sciences.

Stanford is the only university with two recipients this year.