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UW-Madison bestows honorary degrees on two scientists

May 3, 2007 By Barbara Wolff

One of the first African Americans to earn a Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience and a Nobel laureate who introduced the world to electricity-conducting plastics will receive honorary degrees during spring commencement ceremonies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Honorees are:

Leslie H. Hicks earned his Ph.D. (1954) and M.A. (1952) at UW–Madison under Harry Harlow. In 1968 Hicks founded the first doctoral program in clinical psychology at Howard University, a traditionally African-American institution in Washington, D.C. He received his B.S. with honors there in 1949.

Hicks has taught at Howard for almost 53 years. After initial research on the cognitive processes of monkeys, Hicks began comparative studies of children and monkeys performing comparable tasks. Most recently, he has focused on the effects of various types of brain dysfunction.

In addition to his work in the classroom and in the lab, Hicks has promoted African-American studies actively as a scholarly discipline. He also has served in an administrative capacity at the American Psychological Association, the nation's leading professional organization of psychologists; the National Institutes of Health; the Educational Testing Service and other associations. He has been a fellow at Stanford University's Center for Advanced Study of Behavioral Sciences and an exchange scientist to the Anokhin Institute of Normal Psychology and the Sechenov Institute of Psychology, both in Moscow.

Alan G. MacDiarmid, who received his Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry (1953) and his M.S. (1952). He was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2000 for his discovery that enables lightweight, flexible material to conduct electricity. Some of the sweeping applications of that finding include anti-static film and computer screen shields that guard against electromagnetic radiation. More recently, MacDiarmid developed semi-conductive polymers used in cell phone displays, light-emitting devices that restrict electrical flows to a single direction and solar cells.

MacDiarmid held the Blanchard Professorship of Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania-Philadelphia. He died on Feb. 7 and will receive the honorary degree posthumously. MacDiarmid had planned to attend the ceremony in May.

According to David Musolf, UW–Madison secretary of the faculty, a posthumous honorary degree has only been awarded once before, in 1990. Prior to this, it was the policy of the Committee on Honorary Degrees not to award degrees posthumously. In the late 1980s, the committee changed its rules to allow the awarding of an honorary degree posthumously when the recipient dies between the time of accepting the invitation to receive the degree and before the commencement ceremony at which the degree is to be awarded.

Commencement weekend this year includes five ceremonies, Friday-Sunday, May 18-20. The honorary degrees will be awarded at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, May 18, at the Kohl Center. All commencement events are free and open to all, and no tickets are required.