UO biologist Judith Eisen elected into elite American academy

Judith Eisen

UO biologist Judith Eisen is best known to the world as a pioneer in using zebrafish as a model to study the nervous system.

On campus, in addition to her research, she played a lead role in establishing the Science Literacy Program and has influenced how faculty members teach in biology, chemistry and biochemistry, physics, geological sciences and human physiology.

Now she’s in awe as she finds herself listed alongside actor Tom Hanks, former President Barack Obama, Supreme Court Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor, physicist David J. Pine of New York University and author Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose 2015 non-fiction book “Between the World and Me” was the UO’s Common Reading book for 2016-17.

Eisen and the others were among 213 individuals selected this month for membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which annually honors exceptional scholars, leaders, artists and innovators and engages them in sharing knowledge and addressing challenges facing the world.

“Have you read the list of this year’s new fellows? What a breadth of significant contributors, both to science and well beyond,” said Eisen, a professor in the Department of Biology and member of the Institute of Neuroscience. “I’m honored and humbled to be elected to be a member of such an august group.”

Eisen, who has continually mentored undergraduate students throughout her UO career, also is a member of the UO’s Center for the Study of Women in Society and a professor in the Clark Honors College.

"Judith Eisen’s contributions to science and society’s understanding of science have been tremendous and nonstop,” said UO President Michael Schill. “She is such a positive force­, from her research in developmental biology and neuroscience, to her training of scientists and mentoring of undergraduates, to her campuswide impact on how science is taught and communicated. Judith is a leader is every way.”

The academy’s Class of 2018 will formally welcome the newly elected members Oct. 6 at an induction ceremony in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Eisen, whose research on early development focuses at the level of individually identified neurons, was among six new fellows chosen for the academy’s section on neurosciences, cognitive sciences and behavioral biology. Her colleagues in that section, she said, “make up a compendium of scientists who have made amazing contributions to these fields.”

The other six scientists newly elected to that section are at University of California, San Diego, Harvard Medical School, Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, Boston University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Eisen is now one of 13 current or retired UO faculty members who have been honored as fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Four of them, along with two former UO scientists, are biologists who have either been colleagues or collaborators with Eisen. David McCormick, the director of the UO’s Institute of Neuroscience, was elected as an academy member in 2014 while at Yale University.

In all, 20 UO faculty members, including four who are deceased and three who have since left the UO, have been selected by the academy, beginning with Peter H. von Hippel in 1979. They’ve come from the fields of anthropology, biology, chemistry, earth sciences, law, physics and psychology.

Last November, Eisen, who earned a doctorate in neurobiology in 1982 from Brandeis University, was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She also was chosen by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation as a 2010 Guggenheim Fellow.

The academy is one the nation's most prestigious honorary societies and a leading center for independent policy research. The 2018 class is the 238th chosen by the academy since it was founded in 1780.

“Membership in the academy is not only an honor, but also an opportunity and a responsibility,” said Jonathan Fanton, the organization’s president. “Members can be inspired and engaged by connecting with one another and through academy projects dedicated to the common good. The intellect, creativity and commitment of the 2018 class will enrich the work of the academy and the world in which we live.”

Among the academy’s long list of famous members have been Benjamin Franklin, elected 1781; Alexander Hamilton, 1791; Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1864; Charles Darwin, 1874; Albert Einstein, 1924; Robert Frost, 1931; Margaret Mead, 1948; Milton Friedman, 1959; and Martin Luther King Jr., 1966.

—By Jim Barlow, University Communications