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IAPT Engler Medal in Gold Announcement

It gives us great pleasure to announce the next winner of IAPT’s Engler Medal in Gold. This is the most prestigious award conferred by the International Association for Plant Taxonomy. The Engler Medal in Gold is awarded in recognition of outstanding lifetime contributions to taxonomy and systematics of plants, algae, or fungi. This award is conferred every six years at the International Botanical Congress so this award will be presented in Madrid in July 2024.

The Engler Gold committee received nominations for eight individuals, all of whom are very accomplished botanists with impressive career accomplishments and contributions. The nominees are a very interesting mix of individuals, which made reading the nominations enjoyable, and making the selection quite challenging! The committee established a list of criteria to be included in the evaluations in an attempt to be objective and unbiased in our work. The committee included Lucia Lohmann, Ilse Breitwieser, Gonzalo Nieto, and Patrick Herendeen (Chair).

The selected nominee is a remarkable individual who has made many important contributions to the field of botany throughout her career. Those contributions have not only been to her field of research, but also to mentoring students and colleagues, engaging in diverse forms of service to the field, and communicating the importance of botany and science in general to diverse audiences. She has been a strong proponent for international collaboration and has been a champion for inclusivity in botany, especially in advocating for true partnership between North and South researchers. She consistently exudes a positive outlook, and she is an exceptional “cat herder” at the Nomenclature Section meetings. In case there is any doubt, we are referring to Sandy Knapp.

We would like to share a few comments about Sandy’s contributions from the nomination letters that we received:

Dr. Knapp is a Merit Researcher at the Natural History Museum in the UK and a world specialist on genus Solanum and other members of the nightshade family Solanaceae. She has publications related to the domestication, phylogenomics, taxonomy and many other aspects of this family, and has described almost 100 new species. According to Bionomia, she has collected almost 18,000 specimens in 31 countries, has identified more than 45,000 specimens from at least 196 countries and has studied and cited almost 30,000 specimens in 190 works. Her passion for plants has made her an advocate for spreading knowledge about them in many dimensions as her publications are not only directed to the taxonomical community but also to the public. Her book "In the Name of Plants: From Attenborough to Washington, the People behind Plant Names" and her many other works of this nature have been written in a very engaging and illustrative manner.

Dr. Knapp’s principal achievements –achievements that have altered our field forever– consist in the modernization of the way we name biological taxa. It was Dr. Knapp’s push for the acceptance of electronic publication of scientific names that led to the required changes in the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants. The acceptance of electronic publication makes accessing information easier for scientists worldwide, especially those in developing countries who may not have access to fully stocked libraries. Dr. Knapp’s many other suggestions for ‘evolving’ the Code are based on her deep familiarity with the relevant research approaches, collection-based rules regarding ‘types’, and the implications of changing these rules. Despite sometimes being seen as ‘arcane’, nomenclatural rules –including about spelling and hyphenation– affect, for instance, NCBI’s GenBank, hundreds of biological data storage and retrieval platforms, and institutional efforts at ‘World Lists’ of plants or fungi. It’s all beautifully set out in Dr. Knapp’s paper on “Stability or stasis in the names of organisms: the evolving codes of nomenclature” (Knapp et al., Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 359: 611-622. 2004). There is nobody else today who matches Dr. Knapp’s leadership role in heading-up the so-called nomenclature committee, a self-selected group of mostly male taxonomists, who meet for 4-5 days every six years to vote on changes on the above-cited International Code of Nomenclature. I have attended these sessions several times over the past 25 years, and it is absolutely astonishing how Dr. Knapp has managed to shepherd through improvements. She did this in Melbourne (2011), Shenzhen (2017), and will do it again in Madrid (2024).

Dr. Knapp’s many contributions have been recognized with the Rolf Dalhgren Prize and the Linnean Medal, as well as her election into the Academia Europeana, the Argentine National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the UK Royal Society. She was also recently awarded (January 2023) a national honor (OBE) from the British Government for ‘services to botany and the public understanding of science.’ In summary, Dr. Knapp stands out among the many excellent biologists working on the variety of plant life because of the sustained depth and breadth of her research on the Solanaceae, combined with impacts in the botanical community that extend far beyond her own research. Her sharp mind, her indefatigable optimism, her gift for communication, and her abundant energy have allowed her to excel as a highly respected plant systematist, an energetic scientific leader, and an impactful public communicator. Dr. Knapp is a unique and special talent. She is widely admired by her peers and is richly deserving of the recognition that the award of the Engler Medal in Gold would bring.

These selected comments touch on some of Sandy’s many admirable qualities and accomplishments. On behalf of the Engler Gold Committee and IAPT Council, I am pleased to announce the selection of Sandra Knapp to be the next winner of the Engler Medal in Gold. Please join me in congratulating Sandy! And please join us in Madrid at the International Botanical Congress where Sandy will receive this well deserved recognition and award.

Patrick Herendeen, IAPT President



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