Columbus Fellowship Foundation Honors Dr. Frances Ligler with First Homeland Security Award


11/05/2003 - 69-03r
Contact: Public Affairs Office, (202) 767-2541


Dr. Frances Ligler, Senior Scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory in the Center for Bio/Molecular Science and Engineering (CBMSE) is the recipient of a 2003 Homeland Security Award from the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation. The foundation is a federal government agency established by Congress to "encourage and support research designed to produce new discoveries in all fields of endeavor for the benefit of mankind."

In a Columbus Day ceremony held in Washington, DC, four newly-established Homeland Security Awards, each representing a different field, were presented to individuals or companies who have made measurable and constructive contributions related to basic and/or advanced research in the area of homeland security. Dr. Ligler is the first winner of the award in the field labeled, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear. Other fields included Border/Transportation Security, Emergency Response and Information Sharing.

Dr. Ligler, who was cited for her work on ultrasensitive detectors for biological threats, is a pioneer in the field of biosensor development, where she has married optical technology with biological recognition molecules in a variety of applications, ranging from the detection of environmental toxins and explosive residues to the airborne detection of biowarfare agents.

Under Dr. Ligler's leadership, the biosensor research and development program at NRL has earned national and international recognition for innovative and leading edge accomplishments in the development of biosensors that provide early warning. This technology has been used in both the armed service for biological warfare defense and civilian sector for monitoring food for pathogens and the environment for pollutants.

Among other biosensor projects, Dr. Ligler and her colleagues developed a fiber optic biosensor, using biological detection molecules in conjunction with fiber optic technology to fabricate an ultra-sensitive detection system. The biosensor uses immunologically based molecules to recognize low levels of pollutants, explosives, drugs or biological warfare agents. During Desert Storm, this work was targeted for the development of a detection method for biological warfare defense and led to the fabrication of a detection device just as the war ended. An automated, portable version is commercially available and is being used successfully by the Environmental Protection Agency for monitoring bathing beaches for sewage contamination.

Dr. Ligler has also designed array-based sensors to test for multiple hazardous agents simultaneously. Speed, sensitivity, and specificity have been demonstrated, and the array-based sensor is now ready for transition to a corporate partner for commercial production.

Dr. Ligler earned a B.Sc. from Furman University in South Carolina, and a D.Phil. and a D.Sc. from Oxford University. She has published over 200 full-length articles in scientific journals, which have been cited over 3,000 times, and has 19 issued patents.

Prior to joining NRL in 1985, Dr. Ligler performed basic and clinical research in immunology in both academics and industry. She is the winner of the Navy Superior Civilian Service Medal, the National Drug Control Policy Technology Transfer Award, the Chemical Society Hillebrand Award, Navy Merit Award, three NRL Edison Awards for Patent of the Year, and the national Women in Science an Engineering Outstanding Achievement in Science Award, among many other awards.

In 2002, Dr. Ligler was the American representative on the organizing committee for the International Biosensors Congress in Kyoto, Japan, and was elected to the permanent organization committee on the European Conference on Optical Sensors (UK 2002, Spain 2004, German 2006.) She is editor for North and South America for the leading biosensors journal, Biosensors & Bioelectronics.



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