Seven Harvard faculty have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest federation of scientists. The honorees, to be announced on Oct. 31, include Richard Bambach, Edward Benz, Gary Chamberlain, Jeremy Knowles, Clifford Saper, Dennis Selkoe, and Fred Winston.
The award is given to AAAS members who distinguish themselves by their efforts to advance basic science or its practical applications. The new fellows will be presented with a certificate and gold and blue rosette pin on Feb. 14, 2004, during the annual AAAS meeting in Seattle. (Gold represents science and blue represents engineering.)
“This honor came as a complete surprise,” says Richard Bambach, associate of the Harvard Herbaria. “I feel deeply gratified that my work is well regarded.”
Bambach’s research involves the reconstruction of past geographies, tracking changes in marine environments, and studying the nature of mass extinctions. He tries to re-create the changes that occurred during global extinctions that occurred 225 million and 65 million years ago. The former was the greatest known extinction in the planet’s history, the latter saw the end of the dinosaurs.
Edward Benz, Richard and Susan Smith Professor of Medicine and president of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, feels “honored and very pleasantly surprised that the AAAS is recognizing the research done by my lab group.” The group tries to understand the molecular basis of inherited blood diseases. Recently, Benz and his colleagues found that a key protein in red blood cells plays an unexpected part in cell division and growth in other tissues. The finding may lead to new ways to suppress tumor growth. Benz says that the AAAS honor “is really as much a tribute to the people in my lab as it is to me.”
As a medical student, Benz was the first to show that analysis of DNA products could be used to increase the understanding of a human disease. The disease, thalassemia, is an inherited blood disorder prevalent in the Mediterranean region, Middle East, and Southeast Asia, and in families originating from these areas.
Statistics, sleep, and senility
The AAAS recognizes economics as a science and has chosen to honor Gary Chamberlain, Louis Berkman Professor of Economics, as a fellow. “I was very pleased to learn of my election,” says Chamberlain, who works at the intersection of statistics and economics. He seeks statistical methods that reduce the influence of factors that sets of data fail to include. The data are often collected by agencies to get information different from what economists are trying to determine. His research has varied from analysis of household expenses to the effect of union wages and rates of return from stocks.
Jeremy Knowles, Amory Houghton Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, adds the title of AAAS Fellow to a long list of honors and awards in science. The AAAS chose him because of both his science and his administrative skills. His citation mentions Knowles’ “major leadership in creating the modern field of chemical biology through creative understanding of enzyme reactions and outstanding service as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard.”
“I hope,” says Knowles, “that our work has shed some light on how enzymes affect the rates of chemical reactions we see in all living organisms, rates that are often billions of times faster than would occur otherwise.”
Clifford Saper, James Jackson Putnam Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience at the Harvard Medical School, has been recognized for his work on brain circuits that control sleep, waking, body temperature, and appetite. His laboratory recently discovered a protein in the eye that plays a key role in setting biological clocks.
Saper, who is also chairman of the Department of Neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, a Harvard teaching facility, notes that, “I have been a member of the AAAS since 1975, and I consider it a major honor to be elected as a fellow.”
Dennis Selkoe, Vincent and Stella Coates Professor of Neurologic Diseases, won rank as a fellow for pioneering research on the causes and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders. “I am indebted,” he said, “to the students and collaborators who have worked with me over the years to decipher the causes and mechanisms of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and related diseases. We share the hope that progress we have made will soon contribute to safe and efficacious treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, which represents an enormous personal and societal tragedy.”
Like other fellows, Fred Winston, professor of genetics at the Medical School, believes that “this honor reflects the outstanding work that has been done by graduate students, postdocs, and research associates in our lab.” Together they have made significant progress in understanding how genes are turned on and off in baker’s yeast. Winston sees this lowly organism as an “excellent model” for learning about gene expression in all plants and animals, including humans.