May 20, 2005  


Two SLAC Scientists Elected to National Academy of Sciences

By Matthew Early Wright

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a society that counts the nation’s best and brightest researchers among its membership, has elected two SLAC scientists to join its ranks. In total, 72 new members and 18 new foreign associates were formally announced by the Academy in early May.

Roger Blandford (KIPAC), shown left, and Axel Brunger (SSRL), shown right, were recently elected to The National Academy of Sciences (NAS).
(Photos courtesy of Stanford University)

Roger Blandford, astrophysicist and director of KIPAC, and Axel Brunger, biophysicist and SSRL researcher, have been chosen for membership based on their outstanding contributions to original scientific research. Election to the Academy is considered one of the highest honors a scientist can achieve.

Both will be formally inducted next April. Blandford and Brunger will join over 2,000 current NAS members in shaping the nation’s scientific agenda, and advising the federal government on scientific and technological matters.

Blandford, who holds a joint appointment with the Stanford Physics Department, first heard of his election via e-mail. “It was a bit of a surprise,” he said. “But of course, it’s a huge honor.”

His research focuses on the astrophysics of black holes, neutron stars, white dwarves and other phenomena. Blandford is especially captivated by cosmology and the early history of the stars. “I’m most interested in using gravitational lenses as tools to understand the universe,” he explained.

Blandford’s distinguished career has taken him from his native England, where he earned his doctorate from Magdalene College in 1974 and was a research fellow at St. John’s College, to a professorship at Caltech starting in 1976. After 27 years there, he joined the faculty at SLAC and Stanford as the Pehong and Adele Chen Professor of Physics in 2003.

“I’m quite happy here,” Blandford said. “There is a tremendous concentration of talented physicists to work with.”

Brunger, who holds a joint appointment with Stanford’s Bio-X initiative and is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, received a phone call early in the morning. “It’s a wonderful honor,” he said. “I’m very excited about becoming a member of the NAS.”

His work focuses on proteins involved in neurotransmission. By using both simulations and experiments, Brunger works to resolve the structure and function of proteins involved in synaptic vesicle fusion. “Using both approaches allows us to better understand this complex molecular machinery,” he explained.

Brunger has followed an illustrious path from his native Germany, where he earned his doctorate from the Technical University of Munich in 1982, to postdoctoral appointments at Harvard and the Max Planck Institute. He was named a professor at Yale in 1987, the same year he became a Howard Hughes Investigator. After 13 years there, he came to Stanford in 2000.

“I was drawn to Stanford because of SSRL and the Bio-X initiative,” Brunger said. “The interdisciplinary nature of Bio-X was very attractive to me.”

The National Academy of Sciences is one of four branches of the National Academies. The other three are The National Academy of Engineering, The Institute of Medicine and The National Research Council.

Abraham Lincoln signed the charter that brought the National Academy of Sciences into existence in 1863, with a mandate to “investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art” whenever the government required such information. The charter was expanded to include the other three branches in 1916 (NRC), 1964 (NAE) and 1970 (IOM).

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Last update Tuesday May 24, 2005 by Topher White