Six UO faculty members are named as fellows in the AAAS

Montage of AAAS fellows

Six UO faculty members have been named as fellows by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, joining 390 other newly elected members whose work has distinguished them in the science community and beyond.

This year’s fellows and their areas of research are Alice Barkan, biology; Bruce Blonigen, economics; Judith Eisen, biology; Julie Haack, chemistry and biochemistry; Patrick Phillips, biology; and Monte Westerfield, biology.

“With their groundbreaking work, these six faculty members have made significant contributions to the advancement of science and have helped to improve society,” said UO President Michael Schill. “Their commitment to discovery inspires us, and we are thrilled that they are being recognized with this tremendous honor for their accomplishments.”

The new UO fellows bring the university’s total number of current or retired faculty members listed as AAAS fellows to 43. Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers. The association announced its selections on Monday, Nov. 20 and will publish the names in the Nov. 24 issue of the journal Science.

The UO fellows and their selection descriptions are:

Alice Barkan, a professor in the Department of Biology, studies the cooperation between two genomes of distinct evolutionary origin inside plant cells — the small chloroplast genome and the large nuclear genome — and how it drives the assembly of chloroplasts, which capture the energy of sunlight during the process of photosynthesis.

Barkan was cited by the association for “seminal contributions to understanding post-transcriptional control of gene expression in chloroplasts, especially her characterization of mechanisms by which pentatricopeptide repeat proteins influence RNA stability, translation and splicing.”

“I'm very fortunate to work with a talented, enthusiastic, and dedicated team,” Barkan said. “This collaborative aspect and the shared thrill of discovery makes it fun to come to work each day."

Bruce Blonigen, an international trade economist who serves as the UO’s dean for faculty and operations in the College of Arts and Sciences, is the Philip H. Knight Professor of Social Science. Some of his early research focused on U.S. national trade policies — specifically anti-dumping trade policies — and he built one of the initial anti-dumping databases for the U.S., which documented detailed information on the hundreds of cases investigating foreign firms for unfair trade practices.                                                

Blonigen was cited by association in the section on social, economic and political sciences for “important contributions to the economic dimensions of international trade, including cutting-edge work on the effects of anti-dumping laws and cross-border investments.

“Even though I’ve had lots of research success, I’ve also felt that perhaps my biggest contributions have been with students,” Blonigen said. “Being able to help them understand and get involved in thinking about problems in a critical fashion and seeing that development in them has been a very rewarding part of my career.”

Judith Eisen, a professor in the Department of Biology and the Institute of Neuroscience, examines how neuronal diversity is generated during development. Her lab studies two major components, neurons in the central nervous system and neural crest cells, a fundamental cell type that forms all of our sensory neurons and a variety of other cell types.

Her early pioneering work was focused on understanding motor neuron development in vertebrates using the zebrafish model and understanding neural crest development. Eisen was cited in the section on biological sciences for “seminal research elucidating aspects of the specification and patterning of neurons and neural crest cells in zebrafish.” 

“I love making new discoveries and I think every scientist will tell you that we are a bunch of people driven by our curiosity,” Eisen said. “Finding out those answers and moving on to the next piece of that puzzle is what drives me, but I’m no different from other scientists, that’s what drives us all”

Julie Haack, the assistant department head and a tenured senior instructor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is focused on examining the emergence, development and diffusion of green chemistry — the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances. She also has sought to connect with those outside her field in the hopes of making green chemistry more accessible.

Haack was cited in the section on chemistry for “distinguished contributions to green chemistry education, particularly for building the capacity of educators to connect design and innovation to the science of sustainability.”

“The best part has been the opportunity work with my colleagues in business, product design, architecture and journalism to design a ‘user interface’ that helps faculty and students use the science of sustainability as a source of inspiration for innovation in their own fields,” Haack said.

Patrick Phillips, a professor in the Department of Biology, studies the evolutionary genetics of complex traits, which are features of organisms that are influenced by the interaction of many genes, as well as the environment. To address this complexity, researchers in his lab make use of the model organism C. elegans, a roundworm).

In addition to his research activities, he has also served a number of administrative roles within the university, most recently as the acting executive director of the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact, a new $1 billion initiative designed to accelerate the cycle of moving discoveries to broader societal impacts. Phillips was cited in the section on biological sciences for “research enhancing our fundamental understanding of the evolution of quantitative traits.”

“We are on the cusp of making some really big breakthroughs, partially because of some amazing innovations in genomic technology,” he added. “When I was a graduate student more than 30 years ago, I never even imagined that we would be able to ask questions with the level of precision that we can today.”

Monte Westerfield, a professor in the Department of Biology and the Institute of Neuroscience, studies the molecular genetic basis of human diseases, making use of the zebrafish model to identify disease-causing genes to elucidate what goes wrong during disease and to develop preclinical trials for new therapies.

Westerfield was cited in the section on biological sciences for “contributions to our understanding of the basis of neurodegenerative disorders, using zebrafish as a model system.”

“The discovery part of what I do is really fun, but in recent years I’ve been having the most fun with all of the collaborations that I have,” Westerfield said. “I’ve got collaborators all over the world and it’s really fun to be a part of a team of people that are working together on common problems, shared interest problems.”

By Lewis Taylor, University Communications