5 UC Berkeley faculty members elected as members of National Academy of Sciences

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Five UC Berkeley faculty members were announced as elected to the National Academy of Sciences, or NAS, on Tuesday.

The five, part of 84 members and 21 foreign associates newly elected, include chemistry professor Kristie Boering, molecular and cell biology professors Yang Dan and Ehud Isacoff, earth and planetary science professor Michael Manga and electrical engineering and computer sciences professor Umesh Vazirani.

“Many of the people who I admire are members of the academy,” Isacoff said. “To be considered good enough to be among them is a great honor.”

According to a press release from the NAS, the society “recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and — with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine — provides science, engineering, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.”

Members are nominated and then undergo a vetting process before being put on the final ballot, which the academy votes on at its annual meeting in April. Membership in the NAS is widely considered one of the highest honors a scientist can receive, according to the NAS website.

The selected Berkeley scientists specialize in a wide array of fields. Manga said his primary interest has been researching how volcanoes erupt.

“If we cannot understand how and why that happens … our understanding of volcanoes is not going to be very thoughtfully done,” Manga said.

According to Vazirani, his work with doctoral student Ethan Bernstein provided the first evidence that quantum computers are more powerful than classical computers and set up the foundation of quantum complexity theory.

Boering, a chemist interested in stratospheric circulation and the effects of human activity on the ozone layer, built a carbon dioxide measurement instrument that was flown by NASA.

Projects that Dan is currently working on involve neural circuits controlling sleep and the function of the prefrontal cortex, according to her website. She is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and specializes in neurobiology.

Isacoff said his work focuses on neural signaling, which details how circuits of nerve cells work together in complex interactions to mediate behavior.

Isacoff noted that there is “amazing” research happening at Berkeley, although not all accomplished faculty members will receive this honor.

“There are a lot of amazing faculty who don’t have it and who may not get it, but Berkeley is a fantastic place,” Isacoff said.

With the election of the five Berkeley scientists, the total number of living Berkeley faculty members in the NAS has risen to 137. They will be officially inducted into the academy at the annual national meeting next year.

The new members have expressed excitement about the news, mingled with gratitude toward the people with whom they have worked in their research.

“It was a collection of people working hard,” Manga said. “I think it’s always nice when your colleagues and people you work with get recognized.”

Contact Sri Medicherla at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sri_medicherla.