Award Name : National Medal of Science
Year of Award : 1989
Award for : Biology
Location : Dnipropetrovsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine
Katherine Esau was a German-American botanist who received the National Medal of Science for her work on plant anatomy Katherine Esau was born on April 3, 1898, in the city of Ekaterinoslav in the Ukraine. When the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 cut short her agricultural studies in Moscow, she and her family fled by wagon to Germany, where she continued her studies. After her graduation from the Berlin Agricultural College in 1922, she and her parents went to the United States, where they made their home in a predominantly Mennonite community in Reedley, California. For her first job in the United States she worked on developing a sugar beet with resistance to the curly top virus. She received a doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley in 1931 and joined the faculty at the university’s branch at Davis. Her textbook Plant Anatomy (1953) became the foremost text in the United States on plant structure and was widely adopted abroad. In 1957 she became the sixth woman elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
In 1963 Esau joined the faculty at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Although she officially retired in 1965, becoming professor emerita, she continued her engagement in research until 1994. In 1989, when she was awarded the National Medal of Science, she became the first trained botanist to be so honoured.