In tribute to the character and accomplishments of Nat Sternberg, a thesis prize has been established in his name. Its purpose is to encourage young scientists who give early evidence of perpetuating the salient qualities that were Nat Sternberg's skill, insight, rigor, and dedication to science.

The Nat Sternberg Thesis Prize is a cash award given each year to a student for the most outstanding Ph.D. thesis in the field of bacterial molecular biology. The award will be presented at the annual Molecular Genetics of Bacteria and Phages meeting, at which time the recipient will give a presentation about his or her work. The amount of the award will be approximately $1000, with the exact amount to be determined by the award committee and the fund manager. The award will provide a travel allowance over and above the prize. A brief introduction of the year's winner and the nature of the prize will be presented at the meeting by the Award Committee Chair or a designate. The 2016 meeting will be held in Madison, Wisconsin from Monday, August 8 through Friday, August 12. Meeting information is available at:


The nominee must have completed and successfully defended his or her Ph.D. thesis within a 12-month period prior to June 1 of the year of the award (between June 1, 2015 and May 31, 2016). The nominee should be willing to report on the thesis work at the annual Molecular Genetics of Bacteria and Phages meeting.


Nominations must come from the thesis advisor or a member of the thesis examination committee. Nominators should send a single collated pdf file containing the following items:

          (i) cover letter
          (ii) candidate's curriculum vitae
          (iii) a copy of the thesis abstract that indicates the significance of the work to the field
          (iv) reprints or preprints of articles based on the thesis material
          (v) three letters of reference, one of which must be from the thesis advisor.

The file should be named as follows: LastName_FirstName_2016.pdf indicating in the cover letter the member of the Award Committee whose areas of interest most closely corresponds to the topic of the thesis (see below). The site opens for nominations on 3/15/16. Nominations must be received by 5pm EST on 4/15/156. Note that only applications submitted as a single pdf file will be reviewed.

Nomination upload has been closed for 2016

Members of the Award Committee for 2016 and their research interests

Petra Levin (Chair), Washington University, St. Louis: Cell division and cell cycle regulation.

Gigi Storz, National Institutes of Health: Small RNAs and ORFs.

Marvin Whiteley, University of Texas, Austin: Bacterial physiology, virulence, and social interactions.

Christopher Hayes, University of California Santa Barbara: Ribosomes, tmRNA, and protein toxins.

Jade Wang, University of Wisconsin: Chromosome replication and stress responses.

Esther Angert, Cornell University: Microbial ecology and evolution; symbiosis. 


Individual and corporate donations to the Nat L. Sternberg Thesis Prize endowment fund are welcome and may be made by contacting Petra Levin (

We acknowledge the generosity of DuPont Merck Pharmaceutical Company for supplying the initial seed money, and of the many private individuals who have provided additional support.


Nat Sternberg belonged to that rare breed of scientists whose understanding of biology is at once wide-ranging and profound. Throughout a career that began in phage biology, Nat kept adding to his activities and interests without relinquishing the earlier ones, often creating remarkable amalgams of old and new. Starting his studies with T4, he went on to l and then took up the challenge of P1 phage, largely unexplored at that time. Nat proceeded to illuminate nearly every conceivable aspect of P1s alternative ways of life: immunity, site-specific recombination, plasmid and lytic replication, partitioning, DNA methylation, packaging, transducing particle generation, among others. When Nat became interested in difficult and fundamental problems in eukaryotic biology, he created elegant ways to use a variety of microbiological systems for their resolution. Among the sophisticated tools that Nat devised, his P1 cloning system for large genomic DNA is notable for the number and ingenuity of its features.

Several eukaryotic topics engaged Nat’s attention, including recombination, genome mapping, and cancer biology. Characteristically, his last publication, an insightful study of the cellular toxicity of tumoricidal intercalating drugs, is based on simple tests with E. coli. The topic had particular significance for Nat, who engaged in a long and debilitating battle with cancer. Nat's love of science was a sustaining force throughout that struggle. Nat Sternberg died on September 26, 1995.

Nat was a scientist's scientist, possessed of extraordinary energy, creativity, wit, and, above all, generosity of spirit. In honor of these qualities and of the person in whom they were combined, former associates of Nat, Lynn Enquist and Thomas Silhavy, conceived of the Nat L. Sternberg Thesis Prize. The annual prize was first offered in 1996.