Faculty members elected to National Academy of Sciences

Friday, May 6, 2016 - 8:06pm

Four University of Michigan faculty members were elected as members to the National Academy of Sciences — one of the highest honors in academia in the United States —Tuesday.

Members of NAS are selected for their exceptional achievements and contributions to research and their responsibilities include advising the members of the federal government on science, engineering and medicine. The University’s four inductees join 2,291 active members and 465 foreign associates. This year brought 84 newly elected members to NAS nationwide.

The professors inducted — Stephen Forrest, Judith Irvine, Susan Murphy and Melanie Sanford — also bring the total number of active University faculty members in the NAS to 29.

Irvine, the Edward Sapir Collegiate Professor of Linguistic Anthropology, was elected for her research on language use in African social life, such as in local politics, in creating and expressing social hierarchy and in the making and destruction of social difference.

Irvine found her election to the NAS to be a joyful surprise, as her field is uncommon among NAS members.

“I was completely astonished to be elected to NAS – an unlooked-for honor and… unusual for my field,” Irvine wrote in an e-mail interview. “There are linguists in the Psychology section but not so much in Anthropology, though some in the past.”

Forrest, the Peter A. Franken Distinguished University Professor of Engineering and Paul G. Goebel Professor of Engineering, was already elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2003 prior to his NAS election.

Forrest, who specializes in electrical engineering and material science, was elected to the NAS for his lifelong work that led to breakthroughs in the understanding of soft materials, which can be easily deformed by thermal stresses or fluctuations at room temperature. His previous election to the NAE was based on the exploitation of the materials and structures he developed for applications including fiber optic communications and displays.

Forrest wrote in an e-mail that his goal is to secure a more sustainable future with his research , adding that his membership in the NAS can bring him one step closer.

“I work at the very interdisciplinary boundary between materials, physics and engineering, primarily on photonic (that is optical) devices for displays, lighting and solar cells,” Forrest wrote. “Since lighting and solar cells both affect our use and generation of energy, you can see that I have a deep interest in sustainability and helping the world toward greater independence from fossil fuel.”

Murphy was elected for her research on mobile health platforms, specifically for developing algorithms for wearable devices which deliver individually tailored treatments. Murphy is the Herbert E. Robbins Distinguished University Professor of Statistics, a research professor at the Institute for Social Research and professor of psychiatry at the Medical School.

Murphy was unavailable to comment for this article.

Sanford, the Moses Gomberg Collegiate Professor of Chemistry and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, was youngest of the four inductees, and the only professor in the group to have started working at the University after the new millennium.

She was elected for her 130 published papers on the development of new chemical reactions that enable the production of pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, positron emission tomography (PET) imaging reagents, battery components and fuels in a more efficient and environmentally friendly manner.

Standford said none of this would have been possible without the support of her department colleagues and undergraduate and graduate students of her research group. She also expressed her gratitude to fellow NAS member Robert Grubbs, her Ph.D. advisor and Noble Prize winning chemist at Calinforia Institute of Technology.

“(Grubbs) has been an amazing advisor, mentor and advocate for me throughout my career,” Sanford said. “He is a terrific scientist and person, and I am constantly inspired by his enthusiasm and approach to both science and his students.”