UW News

May 8, 2003

Regent, five scholars named to prestigious academy

Four UW faculty members, a researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC) with an affiliate faculty appointment, and a member of the Board of Regents are among those elected Fellows of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the academy announced this week.

The new Fellows are Charles Johnson, writer and professor of English; Maynard Olson, professor of genome sciences and medicine and director of the UW Genome Center; Adrian Raftery, professor of statistics and sociology and director of the Center for Statistics and Social Sciences; R.G. Hamish Robertson, professor of physics and scientific director of the Center for Experimental Nuclear & Astrophysics; Robert Eisenman, member of the Basic Sciences Division at FHCRC and affiliate professor of biochemistry; and Regent William H. Gates. They are among 187 Fellows and 29 foreign honorary members elected this year.

“Newly elected fellows are selected through a highly competitive process that acknowledges the best of all scholarly fields and professions,” said Academy President Patricia Meyer Spacks. “It gives me great pleasure to welcome these outstanding and influential individuals to the nation’s oldest and most illustrious learned society.”

Johnson, who has been at the UW since 1976, is the author of novels, short stories and screenplays and the former head of the Creative Writing Program. His 1990 novel, Middle Passage, won the National Book Award, and he has since been chosen as the recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant.” A graduate of Southern Illinois University, Johnson started his career as a cartoonist and co-produced a “how-to-draw” series that ran on PBS stations for 10 years. More recently he has been writing literary criticism for the New York Times and Washington Post in addition to his fiction.

Olson, one of the early architects for the Human Genome Project, was honored last year with a Gairdner International Award for “technological and experimental innovations that were critical for the sequencing of the mammalian genomes.” A graduate of Stanford University, he worked at the UW for several years in the 1970s, but moved to Washington University in St. Louis, before returning in 1992. That year he received the Genetics Society of America Medal for outstanding contributions during the previous 15 years. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences

Raftery, who joined the faculty in 1986, is a native of Ireland, where he obtained his undergraduate degrees. His doctorate is from the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris. Raftery’s research deals with the selection of a statistical model. Often several competing models are plausible, and the data at hand fails to distinguish well between them, although they point to different scientific conclusions. Ways of making these choices and of taking account of the uncertainty associated with them is Raftery’s specialty. He was ranked as one of the world’s 10 most cited mathematicians in the decade 1991–2001.

Robertson, who earned his doctorate at McMaster University, was at Michigan State University and Los Alamos National Laboratory before joining the UW in 1994. His research is in neutrino physics. He has investigated neutrino mass via tritium beta decay and solar neutrino physics, and initiated the Los Alamos Laboratory’s collaboration in the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) project. He is now U.S. co-spokesman of the SNO Collaboration, which recently demonstrated that neutrinos undergo flavor transformation on their way from the sun to the earth, thus explaining the “solar neutrino problem.” Robertson won the American Physical Society’s Tom W. Bonner Prize in 1997.

In addition to his service on the Board of Regents, Gates is the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and guides its strategic direction. A retired attorney, Gates earned both his undergraduate and law degrees at the UW and has a long history as a volunteer for various campus and community organizations. He has been a regent since 1997.

Eisenman, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, is a leader in the field of oncogenes, aberrantly regulated genes that cause cancer. His studies on a gene known as myc are seminal to scientists’ understanding of how normal cells progress to cancer cells. Eisenman’s work has paved the way for the discoveries of other oncogenes that work by interacting with DNA. In 2002, the American Association for Cancer Research named him as the first recipient of the Kirk A. Landon Prize for Basic Cancer Research. He earned his doctorate at the University of Chicago.

The academy was founded in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock and other scholar-patriots “to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity and happiness of a free, independent and virtuous people.” Drawing on the wide-ranging expertise of its membership, the academy conducts studies on international security, social policy, education and the humanities.