The acceptance of the validity of the Archaea, which are prokaryotes but not Bacteria was a slow and painful process. Such famous figures as Salvador Luria and Ernst Mayr objected to his division of the prokaryotes, and not all criticism of him was restricted to the scientific level. Not without reason has Woese been dubbed "Microbiology's Scarred Revolutionary" by the journal Science. Yet, the growing amount of supporting data led the scientific community in general to accept the Archaea by the mid 1980s.
Woese was a MacArthur Fellow in 1984, was made a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1988, received the Leeuwenhoek medal (microbiology's highest honor) in 1992, and was a National Medal of Science recipient in 2000. In 2003, he received the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He was born in Syracuse, New York.