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National Academy of Sciences Elects Nine Harvard Professors

University Hall.
University Hall. By Justin F. Gonzalez
By Juliet E. Isselbacher, Crimson Staff Writer

The National Academy of Sciences added nine Harvard professors to its ranks, the group announced Tuesday.

Chemistry professors Joanna Aizenberg, Cynthia M. Friend, and Daniel Kahne; Economics professors David Laibson and Matthew Rabin; Neurobiology professor Bernardo L. Sabatini; Engineering professor Zhigang Suo; Sociology professor David R. Williams; and Physics professor Amir Yacoby were among the 100 scholars tapped to join the Academy this year.

These 100 new members elevate the Academy’s active membership to 2,347 scientists. Election to the small and exclusive group, comprising “the country’s leading researchers,” is one of the highest honors that a scientist can receive, according to the Academy’s website.

Only members of the Academy may nominate candidates, who must go through an “extensive and careful vetting process” before being voted upon at the Academy’s annual April meeting, per the webpage.

Williams, who studies how social environments can shape mental and physical health, said he feels particularly honored to have been chosen as a social scientist, since most of the group’s members come from the hard sciences.

“The overwhelming majority of the members come from the basic sciences,” Williams said. “So, in that sense, it's doubly an honor.”

“I have gotten other honors before, but I would honestly say this is certainly the biggest one — the National Academy of Sciences,” he added.

Sabatini, whose father and brother both earned spots in the Academy, said he thinks membership in the group is “the ultimate sort of validation for a scientist.”

“It's a bit odd, as well, in the sense that it's a wonderful club — a club in which a lot of significance is in getting to the club,” said Sabatini, who studies synapses, neural plasticity, and action selection. “And as of now, I don't really know what all the sort of benefits and responsibilities are. Hopefully one day I'll be able to contribute to science, policy and leadership in a way that'll make a difference.”

Yacoby, who studies the strongly correlated electron physics and quantum information science, said that while he is excited to have been chosen, it has never been his “motivation to win any of these prizes or honors.”

“It's very, very nice to be recognized for the work that you're doing, but I think I do not foresee it really altering my research,” he said.

He said he hopes the recognition will push him to keep improving as a teacher.

“Maybe this honor will make me a better role model for younger students who are interested in similar careers,” he said.

— Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.

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