Six Rice University professors elected AAAS fellows

Aazhang, Alvarez, Bennett, Mikos, Palem, Tapia honored by scientific society

Rice News staff

Rice University professors Behnaam Aazhang, Pedro Alvarez, George Bennett, Antonios Mikos, Krishna Palem and Richard Tapia have been named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society and the publisher of the journal Science.

AAAS fellows are elected by their peers, and fewer than 1 percent of the association’s members are elected each year. Fellows are selected for their efforts to advance science or scientific applications that are deemed scientifically or socially distinguished.

“Rice’s six new AAAS fellows come from diverse disciplines in science and engineering, and they all share the respect and admiration of their peers,” said Rice University Provost George McLendon. “The election of this many fellows from Rice speaks volumes about the caliber of our faculty and Rice’s reputation as a prominent research university.”

Aazhang, the J.S. Abercrombie Professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was elected “for distinguished contributions to fundamental and experimental research in the fundamentals of wireless communication and networking and digital communication education, and as director of (Rice’s) Center for Multimedia Communications (CMC).”

Aazhang is also a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a former member of the Houston Mayor’s Commission on Cellular Towers and an Academy of Finland Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Oulu in Oulu, Finland. He is a co-author of the IEEE Stephen O. Rice best paper in 2004, is listed as a Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researcher and has published extensively on communication theory, information theory and their applications.

Alvarez, the George R. Brown Professor and chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was elected “for pioneering contributions to the practice and pedagogy of environmental engineering sciences in the fields of bioremediation and environmental nanotechnology.”

Alvarez, a past president of the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP), has won the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program’s award for cleanup project of the year, the AEESP Malcolm Pirnie Frontier in Research Award and the Water Environment Federation’s McKee Medal for Groundwater Protection, Restoration or Sustainable Use. He serves on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board and is also a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Leopold Leadership Foundation, the Water Environment Federation and the International Water Association.

Bennett, Rice’s E. Dell Butcher Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology and an investigator in Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative, was elected for “distinguished contributions to analyzing and manipulating bacterial metabolism and genes and in generating applications for beneficial purposes, and for advancing interdisciplinary education.”

Bennett won the Society for Industrial Microbiology’s Selman Waksman Outstanding Teaching Award in 2010 and Rice’s Hershel M. Rich Outstanding Invention Award in both 2004 and 2005. His groundbreaking research on the metabolic processes and pathways of Escherichia coli, Clostridium acetobutylicum and other bacteria is widely cited, as are his efforts to engineer organisms for the production of biofuels and other high-value chemicals.

Mikos, Rice’s Louis Calder Professor of Bioengineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, was elected “for seminal contributions and visionary leadership in tissue engineering, and for pioneering work on biomaterials science that has led to numerous biomedical products or devices.”

Mikos specializes in a broad range of research fields, including tissue engineering, controlled drug delivery and gene therapy. The winner of numerous awards, including the Founders Award of the Society for Biomaterials and the Meriam/Wiley Distinguished Author Award of the American Society for Engineering Education, Mikos is the author of more than 430 publications and 25 patents. He is currently president of the North American Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society.

Palem, the Ken and Audrey Kennedy Professor of Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice and the Nanyang Visiting Professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, was elected “for fundamental contributions to compiler optimization, embedded computing and probabilistic computation.”

Palem has won numerous awards, including the IEEE Computer Society’s highest technical award, the 2008 W. Wallace McDowell Award for his pioneering research on embedded systems. He is also the inventor of probabilistic microchips, which trade off computational precision for energy savings. His ultra-low-power, low-cost tablet called the I-slate — an electronic version of the handheld blackboards used by millions of Indian schoolchildren — is scheduled for full-scale production in 2012.

Tapia, University Professor, the Maxfield-Oshman Professor in Engineering and a professor of computational and applied mathematics, was elected “for significant contributions in optimization theory and numerical analysis and extraordinary efforts to foster diversity, inclusiveness and excellence in the mathematical sciences.”

Tapia received the National Medal of Science — the highest national honor for a U.S. scientist — at a White House ceremony Oct. 21. He has authored or co-authored two books and more than 100 mathematical research papers, and his dedication and support for mentoring and diversity in education have earned numerous honors, including the Lifetime Mentor Award from AAAS and the Distinguished Service to the Profession Award from the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

Aazhang, Alvarez, Bennett, Mikos, Palem and Tapia are among the 539 new fellows who will be acknowledged in the Dec. 23 issue of Science magazine. The 2011 AAAS Fellows also will be honored at a Feb. 18 ceremony at the 2012 AAAS annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.