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April 27, 2006

Two UW faculty elected to National Academy of Sciences

Two UW faculty members — David Baker and Barbara Reskin — have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. They are among 72 new members and 18 foreign associates from 16 countries named in recognition of their “distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.”

Baker, professor of biochemistry with adjunct appointments in bioengineering and genome sciences, is also an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is recognized as a visionary young scientist and received the Foresight Institute Feynman Prize in 2004. He directs the graduate program in Biomolecular Structure and Design at the UW.

His work is focused on the prediction and design of protein structures, protein folding and interactions between proteins. His group develops computational programs based on experimental work with proteins, and then uses the programs to determine protein structures and functions. Using the ROSETTA program they developed, his group has won several awards for predicting structures. Baker is now recruiting unused computer time for ROSETTA@home, software that “farms out” small pieces of the computational work. For more on this project, see the Web site at

Baker graduated from Harvard and earned his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1989. He joined the School of Medicine faculty in 1993 after doing postdoctoral work at the University of California, San Francisco. In 1994 he won both a Packard Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award, and he has also received a Young Investigator Award from the Protein Society and the Newcomb-Cleveland Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Reskin is the S. Frank Miyamoto Professor of Sociology. A graduate of the UW (BA and Ph.D.), she taught for much of her career at schools in the Big Ten, then accepted a professorship at Harvard. She returned to the UW four years ago because she missed Seattle and wanted to teach at a public university.

In her research, Reskin is interested in social inequality — especially but not exclusively inequality in the labor market. So she studies how sex and race affect how people fare in the labor market, with particular attention to how employers’ personnel practices can create work settings that are more or less hospitable to people of color and women. She has also written on affirmative action in employment and education, and on race discrimination as a system that operates across of related spheres: neighborhood segregation, school segregation, access to higher education, labor market opportunities, inequalities in income and wealth, and consumption and credit discrimination which in turn perpetuate residential/neighborhood segregation.

Reskin is particularly proud to hold the Miyamoto professorship because Miyamoto was the chair of the Department of Sociology when she was a graduate student. “I was both a thorn in his side and a great admirer of him,” she said.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for the general welfare. It 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.

“Election to the academy is considered one of the highest honors in American science and engineering,” said Ralph Cicerone, who became president of the academy in 2005.

The UW boasts 50 members of the academy.  Those elected this week bring the total number of active members to 2,013. Foreign associates are nonvoting members of the Academy, with citizenship outside the United States. There are currently 371 foreign associates.