Three UCLA professors were elected to the National Academy of Sciences in recognition of their “distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.” The academy announced the election of 84 new members and 21 foreign associates from 15 countries. UCLA is tied for sixth in the U.S. in the number of faculty elected.
Membership in the academy is one of the highest honors that a U.S. scientist can receive. Its members have included Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Thomas Edison, Orville Wright and Alexander Graham Bell.
The UCLA professors for 2015 are:
James C. Liao, a distinguished researcher in renewable biofuels and UCLA's Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Professor of Chemical Engineering.
Liao, who is chair of the chemical and biomolecular engineering department at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, the highest honor for engineers in the United States, in 2013. He is also a professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry.
Liao’s research focuses on understanding fundamental scientific principles of synthetic biology and metabolism, then using that knowledge to solve problems in the production of fuels and chemicals and in the treatment of metabolic diseases.
Liao is acclaimed for his work developing more efficient biofuels. He has synthesized bacteria both to consume carbon dioxide, a harmful greenhouse gas, and to produce the liquid fuel isobutanol. In essence, he and his team turned exhaust into fuel in a series of biochemical reactions powered directly by sunlight.
He has also developed a way to turn electricity into liquid fuel, as well as a method for converting waste proteins into fuel. His techniques can be used to address obesity by increasing metabolism rates — research that showed successful results in mice.
Glen MacDonald, the John Muir Memorial Endowed Chair in Geography at UCLA and an international authority on climate change, its causes and its environmental and societal impacts. Water resources in western North America and the global semi-arid regions have been a particular focus of his work.
MacDonald is known for his extensive research on arctic climate change and, more recently, the “Perfect Drought” in the southwestern United States. He also conducts research on the impact of rising sea levels on coastal marshes in California.
MacDonald is a member and the former director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. He also holds an appointment in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology.
He is working on a book and documentary exploring the potential impact of climate change, particularly in areas where mega-droughts have led to serious political and economic destabilization and where they could do so in the future, including Central America, Egypt, Syria and the border region of India and Pakistan.
He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Jeff F. Miller, the Fred Kavli Chair in NanoSystems Sciences and a professor in the department of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics and director of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA.
A leader in the genetics of bacterial pathogens, Miller conducts research focusing on the molecular mechanisms of bacterial pathogenesis and the evolution of functional diversity in bacteria and bacteriophage. Throughout his career, Miller has integrated depth of scholarship with an innovative combination of approaches, ranging from molecular genetics, cell biology, structural and chemical biology, to neonatology and infectious diseases. His research is known for its elegance and rigor and has broad implications in genetics, evolution, microbiology, and biotechnology.
Miller articulated the importance of signal transduction in controlling bacterial virulence, and went on to develop approaches for understanding how virulence is regulated, and why. Miller's studies of the pathogenesis of whooping cough led to the discovery of diversity-generating retroelements, which function to introduce mutations at defined locations in target genes. This mechanism, which is unique in biology, is capable of creating repertoires of diversified proteins that far exceed previously described biological systems, including mammalian immunity. Diversity-generating retroelements are distributed throughout the bacterial domain of life and were recently discovered in archaea.
The National Academy of Sciences was established in 1863 by a congressional act of incorporation signed by Abraham Lincoln that calls on the academy to act as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology. The academy is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for the general welfare.