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National Academy of Sciences elects three Stanford scholars

STANFORD -- Three Stanford professors were among 60 new members elected to the National Academy of Sciences on April 30.

Election to membership in the academy is considered one of the highest honors that can be accorded a U.S. scientist. Of the 1,626 members of the Academy, 86 are from Stanford; another five are affiliated with the Hoover Institution.

The new Stanford members are:

-- David E. Rumelhart, professor of psychology;

-- Richard M. Schoen, professor of mathematics;

-- James A. Spudich, professor of cell biology.

Rumelhart, 48, is one of the founders of the "new connectionism," a growing field in cognitive science, the study of learning and perception. He pioneered the use of computers to simulate mental processes, devising multilayered neural networks to create "brain-style" models.

His work has practical application in computers that "learn" in some of the ways that humans learn, by recognizing and classifying patterns. Working with students and colleagues, he has taught computers to speak and recognize human speech, and to classify and make deductions from such complex data sets as thousands of patterns produced by a mass spectrometer.

Rumelhart also studies how human knowledge is represented in the mind. He is working to understand how the human memory organizes motor control and learned behaviors.

A native of Mitchell, S.D., Rumelhart received his doctorate in mathematical psychology from Stanford in 1967. He served on the faculty of the University of California-San Diego for 20 years before returning to Stanford as a full professor in 1987. That year, he was named to the prestigious five-year MacArthur Prize Fellowship.

Among the early work for which Schoen first gained recognition was a collaboration with S.-T. Yau, solving a series of conjectures in general relativity. Their Positive Mass Theorem shows that gravitation is an attractive force in any conceivable universe that satisfies Einstein's Theory of General Relativity.

Schoen, 40, continues his research in differential geometry, nonlinear partial differential equations and the calculus of variations. He constructs and analyzes geometric objects that optimize certain physical or geometric energies. For example, he has developed new ways to understand surfaces of least area spanning a curve in three-dimensional space -- the mathematical model for soap films.

Schoen's ideas have been applied to a wide range of mathematical problems, from general relativity to questions about rigidity for lattice subgroups of algebraic groups.

Born in Celina, Ohio, Schoen received his doctorate from Stanford in 1976. Before returning as a full professor in 1987, he was a professor at the Berkeley and San Diego campuses of the University of California. He also served on the faculties of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and the Courant Institute, New York University.

He was a MacArthur Prize Fellow from 1983 to 1988. In 1989 he was awarded the American Math Society's Bocher Prize for the outstanding contribution to analysis of the previous five-year period.

Spudich, 49, is an international authority on the molecular basis of cell movement (motility), including muscle contraction.

He studies common motor muscle proteins such as actin and myosin, found in most cells in higher organisms. Clinical techniques in the field may in the near future help shore up weaknesses in critical organisms by introducing strengthening mutations into the motor molecules.

A native of Collinsville, Ill., Spudich received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Stanford in 1968. He joined the faculty as a full professor in 1977 after serving seven years at the University of California at San Francisco.

In December 1987, he was appointed the Douglass M. and Nola Leishman Professor of Cardiovascular Disease, an endowed professorship that recognizes the potential importance of cell movement studies in the conquest of cardiovascular disease.

Spudich served a term chairmanship, 1979 to 1984, in his Department of Cell Biology.

In addition to the 60 new U.S. members elected last week, the NAS at its 128th annual meeting chose15 nonvoting foreign associates from nine countries. The election, based on "recognition of distinguished and continuing achievements in original research," brought the total number of current members to 1,626 and foreign associates to 277.

The National Academy of Sciences, although not a government agency, was chartered by Congress in 1863 to serve as an official adviser to the federal government in science and technology. Election is based on "recognition of distinguished and continuing achievements in original research." April's election also included 15 foreign associates, bringing their total to 277.



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