Six Rice University professors elected AAAS fellows

David Ruth

Jade Boyd

Six Rice University professors elected AAAS fellows

Carson, Ensor, Kavraki, Natelson, Phillips, Vannucci honored by scientific society

HOUSTON — (Nov. 29, 2012) — Rice University professors Daniel Carson, Katherine Ensor, Lydia Kavraki, Douglas Natelson, George Phillips and Marina Vannucci have been named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society and 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 distinguished.

“This is the second year in a row that Rice has seen six of its faculty members elected to the prestigious rank of AAAS fellow,” said Rice University Provost George McLendon. “This impressive group is representative of the quality of our Rice faculty, and we congratulate them on this well-deserved recognition.

Dan Carson

Carson, dean of Rice’s Wiess School of Natural Sciences, the Schlumberger Chair of Advanced Studies and Research and professor of biochemistry and cell biology, was elected for “distinguished contributions to the field of reproductive biology and medicine, particularly for studies of the embryo implantation process, and for the advocacy of basic science in the community.”

Carson’s research, which could lead to better drugs for preventing and treating cancer as well as for improving fertility, focuses on uncovering the molecular basis by which mammalian embryos implant into the uterine wall and the similarities between these processes and those of some highly invasive types of cancer. He is a past recipient of the prestigious MERIT award from the National Institutes of Health. Prior to joining Rice in 2008, Carson served as the chair of biological sciences at the University of Delaware and also spent 15 years on the faculty of the University Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Kathy Ensor

Ensor, professor of statistics and chair of the Department of Statistics, was chosen “for research in environmental and financial statistics, leadership in the statistics profession and for advancing statistical practice and outreach through the mentoring and education of future scientists.”

Ensor’s research focuses on the development of statistical methods for dependent and complex problems in the areas of environment, energy and finance. She has worked closely with leading corporate and government decision makers to bring improved statistical science to real-world problems. She directs Rice’s Center for Computational Finance and Economic Systems, and since 2003 she has co-lead the National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored training program in mathematical sciences at Rice. She joined Rice’s faculty in 1987, is a fellow of the American Statistical Association and has been recognized as an outstanding leader, scholar and mentor.

Lydia Kavraki

Kavraki, the Noah Harding Professor of Computer Science and professor of bioengineering, was selected “for fundamental contributions to robotic motion planning and its application to computational biology.”

Kavraki is a computer scientist who develops algorithms for robot motion planning and applies robotics engineering principles to the study of drug design and computational biology. She joined Rice’s faculty in 1996 and was recently elected to the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine. Kavraki is a past winner of the prestigious Grace Murray Hopper Award of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). She is a fellow of the ACM, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

Doug Natelson

Natelson, professor of physics and astronomy and professor of electrical and computer engineering, was chosen “for distinguished contributions to the physics of nanostructures and of molecular electronic systems.”

Natelson’s research interests are in nanoscale physics, particularly the unusual electrical, magnetic and optical phenomena observed in matter as it approaches the atomic scale. He is the past winner of both a Packard Fellowship and a Sloan Research Fellowship and was named one of the nation’s top 20 scientists under 40 by Discover magazine in 2008. Natelson also enjoys explaining physics to the general public and blogs regularly about developments in condensed matter and nanoscale physics.

George Phillips

Phillips, the Ralph and Dorothy Looney Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology and professor of chemistry, was recognized “for outstanding contributions to the development of crystallography and its applications in structural biology, particularly in the study of protein dynamics and structural genomics.”

Phillips, a structural biologist who earned bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from Rice and served on Rice’s faculty from 1987 to 2001, returned to the university in July after more than 10 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research is aimed at relating the three-dimensional structure and dynamics of proteins to their biological functions; his research group has developed several experimental techniques for establishing how protein and nucleic acid molecules move in time and space. Phillips is president of the American Crystallographic Association and a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ National Committee on Crystallography.

Marina Vannucci

Vannucci, professor of statistics at Rice and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, was elected “for fundamental contributions to wavelet-based statistical modeling and to the theory and practice of Bayesian variable selection methods and for mentorship of young researchers.

Vannucci joined Rice’s faculty in 2007 and serves as director of the Rice-MD Anderson Inter-institutional Graduate Program in Biostatistics. Vannucci’s research focuses on the theory and practice of Bayesian variable selection techniques and on the development and application of wavelet-based statistical models. Her work is often motivated by real problems, and the methods she has developed for variable selection have been applied in structural bioinformatics, protein structure prediction, neuroscience and chemometrics. Vannucci received an NSF CAREER award in 2001 and won the Mitchell prize from the International Society for Bayesian Analysis in 2003.

Carson, Ensor, Kavraki, Natelson, Phillips and Vannucci are among the 702 new fellows who will be acknowledged in the Nov. 30 issue of Science magazine. The 2012 AAAS Fellows also will be honored at a Feb. 16 ceremony at the 2013 AAAS annual meeting in Boston.


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About Jade Boyd

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