UMass Amherst Biological Chemist Lila Gierasch Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Lila Gierasch
Lila Gierasch

AMHERST, Mass. – The American Academy of Arts and Sciences today announced the election of 213 new members, including biological chemist Lila Gierasch, Distinguished Professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, along with some of the world’s most accomplished scholars, scientists, writers, artists and civic, business and philanthropic leaders.

Founded in 1780, the academy is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening leaders from the academic, business and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing and opportunities available to the nation and the world. Members contribute to academy publications and science, engineering and technology policy studies, works on global security and international affairs, the humanities, arts, education and American institutions and the public good.

The new class will be inducted at a ceremony on Oct. 8 in Cambridge, Mass. Gierasch says, “I am thrilled and honored to learn that I have been elected to the American Academy and to be included among such accomplished scholars.”

Don Randel, chair of the academy’s board of directors, says, “It is an honor to welcome this new class of exceptional women and men as part of our distinguished membership. Their election affords us an invaluable opportunity to bring their expertise and knowledge to bear on some of the most significant challenges of our day. We look forward to engaging these new members in the work of the academy.”

Jonathan F. Fanton, president of the academy, adds, “In a tradition reaching back to the earliest days of our nation, the honor of election to the American Academy is also a call to service. Through our projects, publications, and events, the Academy provides members with opportunities to make common cause with one another. We invite these newly elected members to participate in this important and rewarding work, and to help produce the useful knowledge for which the Academy’s 1780 charter calls.”

Gierasch holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Mount Holyoke College and a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard University. She started her academic research career at Amherst College in 1974 and moved in 1979 to the University of Delaware, where she rose to full professor. In 1988, she assumed the Robert A. Welch Chair in Biochemistry at the University of Texas-Southwestern, where she founded the graduate program in molecular biophysics. Gierasch came to UMass Amherst in 1994 to lead the chemistry department and in 1999 and was head of the biochemistry and molecular biology department until 2005.

In addition to Gierasch, physical and biological scientists in the new class include Jacqueline Hewitt, the astrophysicist who discovered Einstein rings, nuclear physicist Barbara Jacak, chemist Timothy Lodge, Jay Keasling, expert in synthetic biology and metabolic engineering, computer scientist Tom Mitchell, biophysicist Eva Nogales, mathematician Andrei Okounkov, evolutionary and population biologist Sarah (Sally) Otto and neuroscientist John Rubenstein, whose discovery of key regulatory genes contributes to the understanding of the cellular and molecular underpinning of diseases like autism and schizophrenia.

Social scientists in the new class include: Brandice Canes-Wrone, vice dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, cognitive learning scientist Michelene Chi and economist Sendhil Mullainathan, co-founder of the MIT Poverty Action Lab. Those elected in public affairs, business and administration include professor and autism spokesperson Temple Grandin and Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute and former managing editor of Time magazine.

Previous inductees to the academy at UMass Amherst are Katherine Newman, provost and professor of sociology, John J. McCarthy, dean of the graduate school and professor of linguistics and Barbara Partee, professor emerita of linguistics.

Current academy research focuses on higher education, the humanities and the arts; science and technology policy; global security and energy; and American institutions and the public good. The Academy’s work is advanced by its elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business and public affairs from around the world.