Four professors elected to NAS membership

Four MIT faculty members were among 60 scientists and engineers selected last week for membership in the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

Elected to the NAS were Roman Jackiw, the Jerrold Zacharias Professor of Physics, Center for Theoretical Physics; Thomas H. Jordan, the Robert R. Shrock Professor and head of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences; Carl O. Pabo, professor of biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator; and Kenneth N. Stevens, the C.J. LeBel Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Several MIT alumni/ae are also among the 60 new members elected; including John M. Hayes, (SB '66, SM, PhD), senior scientist in the department of geology and geophysics, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute; James K. Mitchell (SB '53, SM, ScD), University Distinguished Professor, Virginia Polytechnic and State University; James M. Moran (SB '68, SM, PhD), professor and senior radio astronomer, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Craig T. Morris (SB '61), curator of anthropology and dean of science at the American Museum of Natural History in New York; Joan V. Ruderman (SB '74, PhD), Nelson Professor of Biology, Department of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School; and Melvin E. Stern (BS '56, PhD), Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Oceanography, Florida State University.

This year's new members and 15 foreign associates were elected at the 135th annual meeting of the Academy in Washington, DC, on April 28. Membership in the Academy is considered one of the highest honors accorded a United States scientist or engineer. The elections brought active membership to 1,798.

The NAS is a private organization dedicated to furthering science and its use for the general welfare. It was established by a Congressional act of incorporation in 1863 that calls on the academy to advise the federal government on science and technology matters.


Professor Jackiw has been recognized for imaginative use of quantum field theory to throw light on physical problems, including his work on topological solutions, field theory at high temperatures, the existence of anomalies and the role of these anomalies in particle physics. He seeks to uncover unexpected, subtle effects that may apply to particle, condensed matter and gravitational physics. Born in Poland, he received a bachelor's degree (1961) from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and the PhD (1966) from Cornell University. Professor Jackiw joined MIT as an assistant professor in 1969. He won the Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics from the American Physical Society in 1995.


Professor Jordan is a geophysicist known internationally for his contributions to plate tectonics and to the understanding of the structure of the Earth. He developed novel seismological techniques to make a series of major discoveries about the three-dimensional structure of the Earth's deep interior. He demonstrated that the ancient parts of the continents have an underlying deep structure that has been preserved for billions of years, and he formulated a dynamical and evolutionary theory of this "continental tectosphere" that explained and unified a large body of geological, geophysical, and geochemical data.

Professor Jordan detected the penetration of descending lithospheric slabs into the lower mantle, and he used these observations and other data to demonstrate that the convection system responsible for plate tectonics extends much deeper into mantle than previously supposed.

In addition to his structural studies, he has organized and led oceanographic cruises and geophysical field expeditions, assembled and analyzed large data bases, and done seminal work on plate motions and plate-boundary deformations, slow earthquakes and seafloor morphology.

Professor Jordan received all his degrees from the California Institute of Technology, including the PhD in geophysics and applied mathematics in 1972. He began his teaching career as an assistant professor at Princeton University and moved to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1975. He joined MIT in 1984 and has served as department head since 1988.


Professor Pabo's research has focused on understanding the three-dimensional structure of proteins that recognize specific sites on DNA and that bind these sites to turn particular genes "on" and "off." After receiving the BS (1974) from Yale University, he became interested in the fundamental problem of protein-DNA recognition.

Initially focusing on a regulatory protein from a simple virus that infects bacteria, Professor Pabo solved this structure while he was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University. As an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, he focused on X-ray crystallographic studies of protein-DNA complexes. These projects involved several of the major types of DNA-binding proteins that regulate gene expression in humans and other higher organisms.

Since he joined MIT in 1991, his laboratory has continued these studies of protein-DNA complexes and also has begun using this information to try designing new DNA-binding proteins for potential applications in gene therapy. In addition to his appointment at MIT, Professor Pabo is an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. As one of the leading scientists studying protein-DNA interactions, his research has been honored with the Protein Society Young Investigator Award, the Pfizer Award in enzymology and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Professor Stevens (ScD '52) has been influential in bringing research on human speech recognition and production to its present level. His application of mathematical and engineering methods to achieve a quantitative understanding has played a substantial part in shaping and directing the field as a whole.

His early work shows how the acoustic properties of the speech signal relate to the ways in which speech is produced. This research also demonstrated inherent quantal properties of speech and helped provide a link between the sounds of speech and the discrete phonetic units of language. He has provided a detailed understanding of the physics of speech production that forms a significant basis for modern speech synthesis techniques. This same understanding contributes to the basis for automatic speech recognition.

Professor Stevens also has contributed to the fundamental understanding of the effects of acoustic noise on humans. His findings have influenced noise control and comfort criteria now practiced in industry. His work has found application in helping the deaf to speak better, in studies of the accuracy of speaker identification from voice patterns, in formulating charts and tables from which the reactions of people to noise can be predicted, and in helping develop computer programs for recognition of natural speech.

Stevens received the SB in 1945 and the SM in 1948 in engineering physics from the University of Toronto. He came to MIT in 1948 as a teaching assistant.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 6, 1998.

Topics: Awards, honors and fellowships, Faculty

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