Five UC Berkeley professors elected to the National Academy of Sciences

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The National Academy of Sciences elected five UC Berkeley professors to their society of distinguished scholars last Tuesday along with 84 other new members and 21 foreign associates from 15 countries this year.

Professors Richard Borcherds, Lawrence Craig Evans, Richard Harland, Montgomery Slatkin and Bin Yu joined 134 living academy members on campus. Of the 2,214 active members and 444 foreign associates now in the academy, nearly 500 members have won Nobel Prizes.

Members of the NAS, which was established by Congress in 1863, help advise the government when called upon and craft reports regarding the health and welfare of citizens around the world, according to the organization’s mission statement. The NAS is part of the United States National Academies, comprising four organizations that advise the government on science and technology-related issues.

“I’m thrilled with this — it’s quite an honor,” Evans, a professor of mathematics, said, although he added that he has many other equally deserving colleagues.

Evans studies the field of nonlinear partial differential equations and, as a theorist, proves mathematical theorems about the behavior of solutions. He is also the author of the standard introductory textbook for graduate-level partial differential equations.

“In order to design computer codes, (engineers) need theorists like me to explain what’s going on,” Evans said.

Borcherds, also a professor of mathematics, won the Fields Medal — described as the Nobel Prize of the mathematical world — in 1998. He invented the idea of vertex algebra and is well known for his work in proving the “monstrous moonshine conjecture” using methods from string theory.

Yu, a chancellor’s professor in the departments of statistics and electrical engineering and computer science, has received national attention for her joint work with the Gallant Lab on campus on a research paper published in the journal Current Biology. The paper reconstructed movies from functional magnetic resonance imaging — a procedure that monitors changes in cerebral blood flow to measure brain activity — in a sort of “mind-reading” algorithm.

“Statistics is a wonderful field,” Yu said, adding that she hopes young people will be a part of the data science revolution because they are needed to adapt to new challenges.

Harland, a professor of genetics, genomics and development and co-chair of the department of molecular and cell biology, researches early vertebrate development in amphibians and mice.

Slatkin, an integrative biology professor, works in the field of evolutionary genetics developing mathematical models that attempt to explain the pattern of evolution as seen in data. He has recently been involved in the Neanderthal genome project, which presented evidence that Neanderthals bred with humans.

“At Berkeley, there are many members of the National Academy and that reflects the overall quality of the faculty at the university,” Slatkin said.

Contact Angel Grace Jennings at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @angeljenningss.