Photos of Norman Atkins, Ralph Lemon, Linda Rottenberg by Kelly Campbell. Photo of Sherri Mason by Annie O'Neill. Photo of Ming Kuo by William Zbaren. Photo of Enric Sala by Steve Spence.

The Heinz Family Foundation is based here in Pittsburgh. But the groundbreaking research and innovation they fund has an impact worldwide.

Today the recipients of the 23rd Heinz Awards were named. Awards of $250,000 each were given to six Americans “whose passion for identifying issues critical to people and the planet is matched by their spirited innovation and determination to address and solve those challenges,” the organization announced.

“This year’s awardees are exemplary in their area of discipline, and more importantly, demonstrate an unwavering determination to overcome obstacles to create change, foster good and inspire new thinking,” said Teresa Heinz, chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation.

“In their unique and individual ways, our honorees break through barriers to explore new frontiers of ingenuity and human endeavor to create a better, more sustainable world for us all,” Heinz said. “In these troubling times, they are a reminder of humankind’s capacity for good.”

Created to honor the memory of the late U.S. Senator John Heinz, the Heinz Awards program recognizes remarkable contributions in five areas of great importance to Senator Heinz: arts and humanities, the environment, the human condition, public policy efforts, technology, the economy and employment.

This year’s winners are:

Sherri Mason, Ph.D., a global expert on freshwater microplastic pollution whose research is raising awareness of contaminants in U.S. freshwater systems, leading to worldwide policy changes. Dr. Mason’s research identifying high concentrations of microplastics in freshwater systems raised public awareness of the threats posed by microplastics in the Great Lakes (including nearby Lake Erie). She has identified microplastics in treated drinking water, sea salt and bottled water, and discovered other chemical contaminants in water supplies and in the Great Lakes food chain, including synthetic fibers shed when fleece clothing is laundered.

Norman Atkins, an educator whose bold models for preparing, equipping and training teachers and school leaders are effecting dramatic change in public school classrooms and increasing teacher diversity. Atkins has challenged long-standing methodologies with fresh thinking to modernize American education and foster academic achievement and excellence among students in low-income communities. Atkins co-founded the Relay Graduate School of Education, basd on the idea that it takes a relay of highly effective teachers to put a child on a positive academic and life trajectory. Relay has trained 3,000 current and aspiring teachers and 750 school leaders nationwide.

Ming Kuo, Ph.D., a psychologist whose research on the impact of urban green space on physical and mental health is changing urban forest and landscape design policy. Dr. Kuo’s work has documented and empirically solidified the psychological, social and physical benefits of green spaces and nature experiences among vulnerable populations, and linked healthy urban green spaces to stronger and safer neighborhoods, reduced aggression and crime, and reduced ADHD symptoms.

Ralph Lemon, a choreographer, writer, visual artist and curator whose body of work combines movement, media, visual arts and language. Lemon integrates choreography known for intense physicality and emotion with theater, drawing, film, writing and ethnography. Over his career, he has created distinctive works in collaboration with dance companies, musicians and artists to craft performance pieces that explore race, identity, spirituality and heritage.

Linda Rottenberg, a social entrepreneur who co-founded the global nonprofit Endeavor to foster entrepreneurship and support young companies in emerging economies around the world. Endeavor, which invests no money itself and takes no equity, has overseen launches in 30 countries and in the U.S., supporting more than 2,000 entrepreneurs in collectively creating an estimated 1.5 million jobs in the areas of healthcare, technology, media and finance.

Enric Sala, Ph.D., a marine ecologist working at the intersection of science and policy to protect the world’s last pristine marine environments. Dr. Sala has been instrumental in the creation of a model used to establish large marine protected areas (MPAs) worldwide, which allow for conservation and restoration of marine life. Many of the sites Dr. Sala and his National Geographic Pristine Seas team have explored and documented are now under protection.

Since its inception, the Heinz Awards has recognized 139 individuals and awarded more than $27.5 million to the honorees. This year’s winners will be honored in Pittsburgh on Oct. 24.

Winners in composite photo, top row left to right: Enric Sala, Ralph Lemon and Ming Kuo. Bottom row left to right: Norman Atkins, Dr. Sherry Mason and Linda Rottenberg.

Melissa Rayworth

Kidsburgh Editor Melissa Rayworth specializes in stories about culture, gender, design and parenting. She has written for a variety of outlets in the U.S. and Asia, and is a frequent contributor to The...