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Seven university faculty named to National Academy of Sciences

Seven Stanford faculty members have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS): physicists Robert L. Byer and Leonard Susskind, electrical engineer Thomas Kailath, neurobiologist William T. Newsome, biochemist Eric M. Shooter, mathematician George C. Papanicolaou and molecular and cellular physiologist Richard H. Scheller.

They are among 60 new members and 15 foreign associates selected May 2 "in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research." Election to the NAS is one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon an American scientist or engineer.

With this election, the total number of Stanford faculty serving on the NAS rises to 122, plus an additional three affiliated with the Hoover Institution. The NAS now has 1,843 active members and 320 foreign associates.

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The NAS is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to furthering science and its use for the general welfare. Established by a congressional act in 1863, the NAS, upon request, advises the federal government on matters of science and technology.

Byer is a professor of applied physics and director of both the Center for Nonlinear Optical Materials and the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory. He has made important contributions to the development and application of lasers, with 35 patents to his credit. He initiated research in remote sensing using tunable laser sources. His efforts were used to develop a commercial system for remote sensing of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, water and atmospheric temperature. Another project led to the development of a special kind of laser used in X-ray microscopes. He has played a central role in understanding the nonlinear optical characteristics of lithium niobate, a material that can shift laser light from red to blue wavelengths. Since blue wavelengths are shorter than red, blue light is used in CD-ROM-type data storage systems to create higher storage densities than are possible with red light. Other research interests include application of laser sources to gravitational wave detection, electron acceleration and interactions between lasers and materials. Byer is a fellow of the Optical Society of America, American Physical Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Lasers and Electro-optics Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). He is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Kailath, the Hitachi America Professor of Electrical Engineering, has worked in many fields in engineering and mathematics. His research emphasized information theory and communications in the 1960s, systems and control in the 1970s and very large scale integration (VLSI) design and signal processing in the 1980s. His current work deals with applications of signal processing, computation and control to problems in telecommunications and manufacturing. Kailath has received awards from the IEEE Information Theory Society, the IEEE Signal Processing Society and the American Control Council. He is a fellow of the IEEE and the Institute of Mathematical Statistics and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Newsome, professor of neurobiology, is pursuing answers to some of the most fundamental questions in neuroscience: How is information processed within the brain, and how does this processing result in organized, purposeful behavior? To answer these questions, Newsome, an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, focuses on how nerve cells in the brain translate signals received from the eyes into the experience of vision. He gathers insight by studying rhesus monkeys trained to perform visual discrimination tasks. In particular, his work has contributed to the understanding of how monkeys perceive motion direction. Newsome joined the Stanford faculty in 1988. He has been awarded many honors for his scientific work, including the Rank Prize in Opto-electronics, the Minerva Foundation's Golden Brain Award and Columbia University's Spencer Award.

Papanicolaou is the Robert Grimmett Professor of Mathematics. His major fields are applied mathematics and probability theory, especially concerning the solution of random ordinary and partial differential equations. One aspect of his research is the use of computers to study general properties of waves in random materials. This work has implications for seismic studies, land-mine eradication efforts and theory of composite materials and suspensions. Papanicolaou has more than 150 academic papers to his credit. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on April 15.

Scheller, a professor of molecular and cellular physiology, focuses his research on understanding the mechanisms of neurotransmitter release through the characterization of proteins associated with a cell's synaptic vesicles. Scheller, a biochemist and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, has identified plasma membrane and soluble proteins critical for the neurotransmitter-release process. A series of elegant biochemical studies led by Scheller has resulted in a mechanistic pathway accounting for the docking and activation of vesicles, which leads to membrane fusion and neurotransmitter release. These mechanisms extend to non-neural cells and have provided an intellectual framework for understanding the molecular basis of the organization of membrane compartments and protein trafficking in all cells. The concepts advanced in Scheller's work are also important in understanding the chemical basis of learning and memory. Over his career he has won many awards, including a National Science Foundation Alan T. Waterman Award in 1989 and a National Academy of Sciences award in molecular biology in 1997.

Shooter, a professor of neurobiology, has been a Stanford faculty member for more than 35 years and was the first chair of the Department of Neurobiology. He has provided key insights into the mechanism of the development and regeneration of nerve cells and recently into the genetic basis of the major inherited disease of the human peripheral nervous system. More than 30 years ago, Shooter isolated pure nerve growth factor (NGF). His studies of nerve growth factor dramatically advanced the field of neuroscience and paved the way for promising new forms of treatment for neurodegenerative diseases. He heads a group of researchers investigating neurotrophins ­ the proteins that keep nerve cells alive ­ and the genes that underlie peripheral neuropathies. Shooter has become increasingly active in biotechnology in recent years. He is a member of many prestigious organizations including the Royal Society of London, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. Among his many honors is a lifetime achievement award, the 1995 Ralph W. Gerard Prize in Neuroscience, which honors Shooter's work on neurotrophins.

Susskind holds the Felix Bloch Professorship in Physics. String theory, which posits that the building blocks of the universe are unimaginably small vibrating strings, owes its origins to Susskind and Y. Nambu of the University of Chicago. In the 1990s Susskind extended string theory to the problem of black holes, supermassive collapsed objects surrounded by a gravitational field so strong that not even light can escape it. Susskind also has made many contributions to elementary particle physics, quantum field theory and cosmology. Among Susskind's honors are his election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and his winning of the 1998 J. J. Sakurai Prize for theoretical particle physics. He directs the Institute for Theoretical Physics, which through its visitor programs provides campus theorists an opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research.