Rice Professor Naomi Halas, alums John Doerr and Karen Davis elected to American Academy of Arts & Sciences


Rice Professor Naomi Halas, alums John Doerr and Karen Davis elected to American Academy of Arts & Sciences


Rice News staff

Earlier this week, Naomi Halas found herself searching Wikipedia to learn about Thomas Pynchon and delighting in the possibility that, somewhere out there, Bono was Googling her.

The Rice University scientist, along with two Rice alums, philanthropist John Doerr and economist Karen Davis, joined the reclusive novelist, the U2 singer and a host of others renowned in their fields when they were elected members of the prestigious American Academy of Arts & Sciences.








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Halas, Rice’s Stanley C. Moore Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and professor of chemistry and biomedical engineering, is an expert in photonics and plasmonics whose lab deals in biomedicine, advanced display technology, solar power and many other applications that depend on the nanoscale manipulation of light. Recent breakthroughs have led to human trials of a novel cancer treatment and have suggested the possibility of an invisibility cloak.

She’ll certainly make tracks for Cambridge, Mass., to be among the inductees in October. “A friend who is also a member told me I can’t miss it,” Halas said. “I’ll never get another chance to see Kenny Barron, Nelson Mandela and Dustin Hoffman all in the same place.”

Other marquee names among this year’s group of 212 new fellows and 19 foreign honorary members are James Earl Jones, Marilyn Horne and Emmylou Harris.

Doerr ’73, who earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in electrical engineering at Rice, is a venture capitalist with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers whose interests as an entrepreneur and philanthropist include innovative green technology, urban public education, fighting poverty and the advancement of women as leaders. He was an early champion of Google and Amazon, among many other companies.

Doerr, Rice’s commencement speaker in 2007, and his wife, Ann, also an alum, recently donated $15 million through their Beneficus Foundation to establish the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership.

Davis ’65, president of The Commonwealth Fund, a Washington-based health-care think tank, is a former assistant professor of economics at Rice who earned both her undergraduate and doctoral degrees here, the latter in 1969.

Before joining the fund, she chaired the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, where she was also a professor of economics. She was deputy assistant secretary for health policy in the Department of Health and Human Services from 1977-1980, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a visiting lecturer at Harvard. In 1991, Rice recognized her achievements with its Distinguished Alumna Award.

Davis returned to Rice last year to speak at the Baker Institute for Public Policy’s “Campaign 2008: The Issues Considered” event on health-care reform.

Halas wasn’t aware she’d been nominated to join the academy, which was established in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock and other scholars and patriots. Inductees over the years have included George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Daniel Webster, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill.

She admitted she didn’t know the particulars of how her name rose to the top of the list. “But certainly the area we work in — nanoparticles and light — has become a hot topic in nanoscience,” she said. ”It’s really exploded in the last year or two. I think that probably played an important part.”

Halas appreciates the challenge of keeping pace with her peers, especially since being named an associate editor of Nano Letters, the most highly cited journal in nanoscience and nanotechnology. “This area has absolutely caught on fire across a bunch of different disciplines because it’s very useful,” she said. “So I get to enjoy the burden of the success of this field. There’s a lot of great new work coming out every single week.”

According to its 1780 charter, the academy’s mission is “to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity and happiness of a free, independent and virtuous people.”

About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.