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Faculty Members Named AAAS Fellows

Three elected to one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies

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April 19, 2011 | by Megan Fellman
Chad Mirkin
Richard Morimoto
Sandra Waxman

From top: Chad Mirkin, Richard Morimoto, Sandra Waxman

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Three members of the Northwestern faculty have been elected fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honorary societies. 

The three are among the 212 leaders in the sciences, social sciences, the humanities, the arts, business and public affairs who have been elected to the academy this year for their pathbreaking work. (The new class of fellows will be inducted at a ceremony Oct. 1 at the academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.)

The new Northwestern members are:

* Chad A. Mirkin is director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology, the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of medicine and of material sciences and engineering.

Mirkin is a world-renowned leader in nanotechnology research and its application. He is known for the invention and development of biological and medical diagnostic systems based upon nanomaterials and new approaches to cancer therapeutics based upon gene regulation. Mirkin is the inventor and chief developer of three groundbreaking nanoscale fabrication and analytical tools: Dip-Pen Nanolithography, Polymer Pen Lithography and Beam-Pen Lithography. He is the founder of three Chicago-based companies: Aurasense, Nanosphere and NanoInk.

A member of President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Mirkin is the recipient of more than 70 national and international prizes. Last fall, with his election to the Institute of Medicine, he became only the 10th in the world to be elected to all three branches of the National Academies. He became a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2010 and the National Academy of Engineering in 2009. 

* Richard I. Morimoto is the Bill and Gayle Cook Professor of Biology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, a professor of molecular biosciences and director of the Rice Institute for Biomedical Research.

Morimoto is widely recognized for his research on the regulation of the heat shock stress response and the function of molecular chaperones. His current research is to understand how organisms sense and respond to physiologic and environmental stress through the activation of genetic pathways that integrate stress responses with molecular and cellular responses that determine cell growth and cell death. The stress of misfolded and damaged proteins influences neuronal function and lifespan at the level of the organism. Morimoto’s studies provide a molecular basis to elucidate the underlying mechanisms of age-associated diseases, including Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and metabolic disease. 

Morimoto has received numerous awards, including a MERIT award from the National Institutes of Health. His laboratory has published more than 210 papers, including three books on the heat shock response and molecular chaperones

* Sandra R. Waxman is a professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

Waxman’s research addresses fundamental issues in conceptual development, language development and the relation between them. Adopting a cross-linguistic developmental perspective, her work is aimed at uncovering how language and concepts come together in the mind of the human infant and very young child. In her work with infants, she has not only identified strong universal patterns of development but has also documented some striking ways in which language shapes our conceptual organization.  

In another line of research, Waxman has teamed up with colleagues in the cognitive and educational sciences and with researchers from Native American communities (especially the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin and the American Indian Center in Chicago) to ask how our notions of the natural world unfold -- across development, across cultures and across languages, asking fundamental questions, which include, “What is the place of humans within the natural world?” “What does it mean to be ‘alive’?” and “How do children across cultures develop these concepts?” Here, too, she has written about how our fundamental notions are shaped by the linguistic and cultural communities in which we are immersed. This basic research has implications for science education and may shed light on how to best promote science learning in the increasingly diverse populations of students entering U.S. classrooms. 

Waxman was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science earlier this year and was the recipient of the James McKeen Cattell Award from the American Psychological Society (2007) and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2007). 

The academy is a leading center for independent policy research. Members contribute to its studies of science and technology policy, global security, social policy and American institutions, the humanities and education.

“It is a privilege to honor these men and women for their extraordinary individual accomplishments,” said Leslie Berlowitz, academy president and William T. Golden Chair. “The knowledge and expertise of our members give the academy a unique capacity -- and responsibility -- to provide practical policy solutions to the pressing challenges of the day. We look forward to engaging our new members in this work.” 

Established in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a center for independent policy research, undertakes studies of complex and emerging problems. Since its founding by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock and other patriot-scholars, the academy has elected leading “thinkers and doers” from each generation, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 19th and Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the 20th. The current membership includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.