Walter E. Massey

Walter E Massey
Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society is honored to announce that Walter E. Massey, PhD, is the 2020 recipient of the Society’s most prestigious award, the Sigma Xi Gold Key Award, which represents the highest honor presented to a member who has made extraordinary contributions to his or her profession and has fostered critical innovations to enhance the health of the research enterprise, to cultivate integrity in research, or to promote the public understanding of science for the purpose of improving the human condition. 

“As one of the most influential and exemplary scientists in history we are proud to have Dr. Massey as a member of Sigma Xi, and we are honored to designate him as the recipient of the Sigma Xi Gold Key Award,” Jamie L. Vernon, executive director and CEO of Sigma Xi, announced.

Massey will accept the Gold Key Award and address the Society on November 7 during the Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference, which will be held virtually.

Massey joined Sigma Xi in 1966. His exceptional career includes a wide range of distinguished positions including the following:

  • President Emeritus, School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)

  • President (SAIC), 2010–2016

  • Chair, Giant Magellan Telescope Board

  • Chair, City Colleges of Chicago Trustees

  • President Emeritus, Morehouse College

  • Former Head, National Science Foundation

  • Former Director, Argonne National Laboratory

  • Former Chairman, Bank of America

  • Former President and Chair, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Massey has demonstrated exceptional lifelong leadership in science and technology and has led a range of institutions with distinction—from physics, to public policy, to public and private boards, to college president.

He has dedicated his life to service. Through his training in mathematics and physics, and his determined and extraordinary leadership, he has narrowed the gap between science and society with an immeasurable and lasting impact on our nation.

Two overarching principles have inspired Massey’s notable career—that science and technology are necessary to sustain the nation's quality of life and the standard of living of its citizens; and that the general public's understanding of science and technology is a critical component of a democratic society. Guided by these principles for more than half a century, Massey has worked to strengthen applied research capacity and science education in the United States and to increase the representation of minorities and women in science and technology.

His wealth of experience includes executive leadership roles at Brown University, the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory, the University of California, Morehouse College, the National Science Foundation as director, and a host of influential boards and commissions. Perhaps most importantly, he has served as an exemplar to young people, illustrating what can be accomplished through intense dedication and hard work.

In addition to Massey’s significant role in science and technology, he has worked to improve student access to the arts and to highlight the important role they play in fostering student creativity and achievement. He is particularly interested in the intersections between the arts and sciences and how exposure to both prepares students for future success and contributes to a more creative and dynamic society.

Further illustrating his dedication to both the arts and sciences, Massey is the only individual to serve as both president and chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and as chair of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD). He is also the only person to have received both the Enrico Fermi Award for Science and Technology from the Chicago Historical Society and the Public Humanities Award from Illinois Humanities.

During the early days of the Sigma Xi (late 1800s to early 1900s) induction into Sigma Xi was often accompanied by the presentation of a small, gold key. The key was often attached as a charm to a chain that held a pocket watch, which was the style of the day, and represented pride in the science or engineering accomplishments of the holder.  We say that new inductees now “hold the key,” and that distinction creates a relationship within a scientific legacy that encompasses some of the most influential scientists in history.