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April 29, 2010

Two UW professors named to National Academy of Sciences


Patricia Kuhl, a researcher recognized internationally for her work on early language and brain development and studies on how children learn, and Lynn Riddiford, who studies the hormones that regulate insect molting and metamorphosis, have been named members of the National Academy of Sciences.

Kuhl, UW professor of speech and hearing sciences and the Bezos Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Learning, and Riddiford, professor emeritus of biology, are among the 72 new members elected April 27 to the academy, a private organization of scientists and engineers who can be tapped to advise the federal government. Members and foreign associates of the academy are elected in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research; election to the academy is considered one of the highest honors that can be accorded a scientist or engineer.

Kuhl’s work has played a major role in demonstrating how early exposure to language alters the brain, according to the website for the UW Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, of which she is co-director. She also is director of the National Science Foundation’s LIFE, or Learning in Informal and Formal Environments, Center. The center unites researchers at the UW, Stanford University and SRI International to study the social foundations of learning. Kuhl’s work has implications concerning critical periods of development, for bilingual education and reading readiness, for developmental disabilities involving language and for research on computer understanding of speech. Her bachelor’s is from St. Cloud University, St. Cloud, Minn., and her master’s and doctorate are from the University of Minnesota. She’s been with the UW since 1976.

An emerging theme of Riddiford’s laboratory, in conjunction with the laboratory of Professor James Truman, is the evolution of metamorphosis. Her group is particularly interested in how the hormonal control of embryonic development in the ancestral insects may have driven the evolution of complete metamorphosis. They are using diverse species such as firebrats, locusts, crickets, and the milkweed bug Oncopeltus fasciatus to study the effects of juvenile hormone on embryonic development and on the development of imaginal primordia. Riddiford earned her bachelor’s degree magna cum laude from Radcliffe College and her doctorate at Cornell University 

Scientists elected this week bring the total number of active members of the academy to nearly 3,000.