Dr. Joel Schnur Receives Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Senior Executive

1/23/2007 - 6-07w
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Dr. Joel M. Schnur, Director of the Center for Bio/Molecular Science and Engineering (CBMSE) at the Naval Research Laboratory, is the recipient of the 2006 Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Senior Executive. Each year the President recognizes a small group of career Senior Executives with the President's Rank Award for exceptional long-term accomplishments. Winners of this prestigious award are strong leaders, professionals, and scientists who achieve results and consistently demonstrate strength, integrity, industry, and a relentless commitment to excellence in public service.

The Presidential Rank Award honors Dr. Schnur for his pioneering leadership in advancing the field of biomolecular science and technology, which has yielded critical new knowledge in diverse areas of science and a deeper understanding of the connections between them. The achievements made in this new field under his direction, and in collaboration with his team members in CBMSE, have been extremely important in developing and fielding new defense technologies for the global war on terrorism, biological warfare defense, naval warfare, and advanced bio-electronic materials.

The most recent achievement is the development of NRL's Multiple Pathogen Resequencing Chip for Biosurveillance (MPRCB), which was used as part of the effort known as the Silent Guardian demonstration project to monitor the National Capital Region during the Presidential inauguration in 2005. The development of the MPRCB is one example that illustrates Dr. Schnur's skills in working with others to identify and state a problem, convincing people that it is important to solve the problem, persuading people that the solution is useful, and finally working collaboratively to implement the solution. Recent improvements in the Resequencing Chip now make it possible to non-invasively detect more than 50 upper respiratory pathogens and biothreats, including the avian flu, in less than nine hours.

Other important results achieved under Dr. Schnur's direct leadership include:

  • concepts he developed in the early 1980s in biomolecular self-assembly that led to the use of ultrasmall pieces of fat, called lipid tubules, in advanced bioelectronic composite materials for radio frequency attenuation. It has also been used in decoys such as the NULKA active, off-board, ship-launched decoy that counters radar-guided anti-ship cruise missiles, and for controlled release applications; and it has recently been licensed to several companies for controlled release and nano technologically based applications.
  • an underwater biobased fuel cell for the production of persistent underwater electrical power that generates over one watt-per-square-meter; which was demonstrated in the laboratory and successfully tested in the Potomac River in 2004;
  • an antibody-based array biosensor that performed well in tests performed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with more than 217 blind samples. This was the first time a biosensor system was tested for multiple targets using statistically significant numbers of blind samples in multiple food matrices; and
  • a prototype fin for undersea propulsion that was designed and assembled with the appropriate actuation mechanism and small servomotors using biomimetic smart materials developed by CBMSE.

The seminal research directed by Dr. Schnur has attracted the interest of many companies, resulting in numerous licenses with substantial royalties and in Cooperative Research & Development Agreements (CRADAs), including DoD's first large CRADA. Taking advantage of the state-of-the-art work being developed in CBMSE, Dr. Schnur pioneered the use of CRADAs in the U.S. Navy in 1989 when he recognized the commercial applications of his group's discoveries in high-resolution patterning and brought this to the attention of leading U.S. companies. In FY 05, CBMSE had six of NRL's 14 licenses and five of the Laboratory's 26 CRADAs, representing over 25% of NRL's business transition productivity. Recently the MPRCB technologies have been licensed to Tessarae Inc.

During his career, Dr. Schnur has worked to blend different areas of science to develop new ways of understanding the laws of nature. He was the first at NRL to actively and successfully promote cross-disciplinary research efforts between biologists, chemists, physicists, and engineers, leading to the establishment of CBMSE. In 1983, he formed a new research group in the area he called "Bio/Molecular Science and Engineering." Under his leadership, the initial small group of five scientists has grown into a staff of approximately 100 federal scientists, postdoctoral fellows, and research associates working in what is now a division-level organization. CBMSE is world-renowned for its contributions to science and emerging technologies, with more than 1000 published papers, 100 patents and disclosures since its establishment in 1984, and more than 10,000 citations in the scientific literature.

Dr. Schnur has been extremely effective in recruiting highly qualified and innovative junior and senior staff. The matrix management system that he devised and implemented has led to the Center's high productivity through more efficient use of resources. Because of the intellectual excitement and high productivity generated by his leadership style, CBMSE has been listed as one of the most attractive places for postdoctoral fellowships in the world by the international publication The Scientist.

Dr. Schnur joined NRL in 1967 as a summer fellow, then as an NRC postdoc in 1971 that led to his permanent hire as a staff scientist in the then newly formed Optical Sciences Division. From 1979 to 1983, he was deputy head of the Division's Optical Probes Branch. Dr. Schnur spent six months in 1983 as Professeur Associé at the University of Paris VI, returning to NRL in 1984 as head of the Bio/Molecular Engineering Branch in the Chemistry Division. Concurrently, he served as the Director for the Center for Bio/Molecular Science and Engineering in the Materials Science and Component Technology Directorate. In 1989, the Center was designated a Division. Dr. Schnur has been the head of the Division (Code 6900) since its inception.

Dr. Schnur received an A.B. in chemistry from Rutgers University, M.S. degree in physical chemistry, and Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Georgetown University. He was an NRC Postdoctoral Fellow at NRL in 1971 and 1972, and a National Academy Fellow at the Université de Paris-Sud in France and Istituto di Fisica in Italy in 1973.

Dr. Schnur has authored more than 150 papers and patents, leading to more than 2,600 citations. He has served as a member of the National Research Council's panel on biomolecular materials and as a member of National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health panels for the development of strategic plans in the biocentric and nanotechnology areas. Working with the Office of Naval Research, Dr. Schnur helped formulate a Navy Corporate Strategic Investment and Operating Plan for biocentric technology. He is the previous recipient of a 2001 Presidential Rank Award.

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