Three campus faculty elected to science academy

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Joining the ranks of famous thinkers such as Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and former UC Berkeley professor Robert Oppenheimer, three UC Berkeley faculty were elected to the National Academy of Sciences May 3.

Professor of mathematics and computer science James Demmel, professor of agricultural and resource economics Michael Hanemann and former adjunct professor of plant and microbial biology Athanasios Theologis are three of 15 UC scientists among this year's 90 inductees to the academy. As is true of previous years, the total number of UC faculty elected to the academy is higher than that of all other public universities combined.

The scientists will be formally inducted in April of 2012 at the organization's 149th annual meeting.

"The recent election of three UC Berkeley faculty to the National Academy of Science is recognition of the high quality faculty here and across the UC system," said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau in a statement. "We are pleased and proud to continue to maintain our position as the nation's premier public university."

With the three inductees, UC Berkeley now counts 139 members and foreign associates among the academy's numbers. As of last week's announcement, the academy boasts over 2,100 active members, about 200 of whom have won Nobel Prizes in various fields.

As members of the academy, the professors will be expected to sit on research councils and panels, aiding scientific research "whenever called upon by any department of the Government," according to the academy's original 1863 charter.

Former president Abraham Lincoln originally signed the organization's Act of Incorporation during the Civil War, creating the institution as a nonprofit, independent source of scientific research and advisory benefiting the general welfare. Since then, the academy has sprouted two sister organizations, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine, to keep pace with science's growing role in public life.

Theologis - who pioneered important genome research - said he is excited to be able to help tackle problems such as securing stable food supplies for future generations.

"NAS reflects the importance that American society places on the scientific endeavor for improving the human condition worldwide," he said in an email. "It is a great honor to be part of this institution."

In addition to bringing prestige and respect to the scientists who were awarded places in the academy, the recognition the scientists receive acts as an indicator of the overall excellence of their universities' programs, according to Demmel.

Demmel added that despite the state's budget concerns, he considers it fitting that UC Berkeley's research programs continue to receive large amounts of funding.

"I hope the state recognizes that the UC is a gem in terms of research and needs to be polished," he said.

Despite the fact that Demmel has already served on the National Research Council, as a member of the National Academy of Engineering, he said the prospect of serving a higher scientific calling excites him.

"The way I've always organized my research along the line: 'what important problems might I want to solve each day?' or 'is it ready for frontal attack?'" he said. "There's always more you can do in a career."


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