BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Barry Smith, Ph.D., Julian Park Professor of
Philosophy at the University at Buffalo, has received a $2 million
Wolfgang Paul Award from Germany's Humboldt Foundation.
The award is the most valuable ever in the academic history of
Germany. It also is believed to be the largest single prize ever
awarded to a philosopher.
Of the 70 candidates nominated by German academic institutions,
14 top-ranking international scholars and scientists have been
selected to share the total sum of more than $23 million that has
been set aside by the German government for the Wolfgang Paul
Program. Smith will receive the largest single amount.
UB Provost Elizabeth D. Capaldi said the university "is very
proud of Dr. Smith's accomplishment in receiving this award.
"The tremendous prestige of the award," she added, "reflects the
depth of the international regard in which his work is held."
The bulk of Smith's award -- the largest among the 14
recipients, eight of whom are from the United States -- will fund
his ongoing series of pioneering studies designed to show that
philosophical methods and theories can be applied to information
The award will be presented to Smith and the other recipients by
Edelgard Bulmahn, Germany's federal minister for education and
research, at a ceremony in Berlin on Nov. 6.
In addition to the monetary award, Smith and the other winners
will have the opportunity to conduct research for three years at a
German academic institution. In Smith's case, the host institution
will be the University of Leipzig, where an interdisciplinary team
of researchers will work under his guidance. They will collaborate
with researchers at UB in a newly founded Buffalo-Leipzig Institute
for Formal Ontology and Medical Information Science.
Smith will continue to teach at UB, but will take a leave of
absence during the 2003-04 academic year to work in Leipzig, and
will spend his vacations there as well.
Smith's research project in Leipzig will serve to establish the
future-oriented field of "formal ontology in information systems."
It involves the university's departments of philosophy, medicine
and information science, as well as the Max Planck Institute for
The project addresses a major problem confronting information
science today, which is that it must employ a large number of
modeling methods and conceptual categories that lack a unifying
foundation. As a result, databases and terminological standards
show a very low degree of compatibility and cannot be re-used even
for similar areas of application.
The goal of Smith's research is to develop a powerful general
ontology, i.e., a semantically sound taxonomical and lexical
framework, for overcoming such problems in reusability and
coherence. The main testbed for this general ontology will be in
the development of standards for clinical trials on which Smith
will collaborate with a team at the University of Leipzig led by
Barbara Heller, working on cross-linguistic medical standardization
projects sponsored by the European Union.
Smith recently has helped establish an emerging specialization
in ontology and information science in UB's master's-degree program
in philosophy. It will help train ontologists needed by private
industry, governments, non-profit organizations and other
institutions to develop and manage large databases and directories.
These individuals will model and analyze complex structures and
processes, and build systems for data and enterprise integration in
a variety of fields.
The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation is a non-profit foundation
established in 1953 by the Federal Republic of Germany for the
promotion of international research cooperation. It enables highly
qualified scholars to spend extended periods of research in Germany
and promotes ensuing academic contacts.
Smith studied at Oxford University and received his doctorate
from the University of Manchester, England. He has worked at the
University of Sheffield, the University of Manchester, and the
International Academy of Philosophy (Liechtenstein). Since 1993 he
has been a professor of philosophy at UB, where he also is
affiliated with the National Center for Geographic Information
Science and the Cognitive Science Center.