MIT model explains how the brain can learn novel tasks while still remembering what it has already learned.
Three MIT faculty members were among 60 scientists and engineers whose achievements were recognized last week by being selected for membership in the National Academy of Science (NAS).
Elected to the NAS were Professors of Biology Peter S. Kim and Eric S. Lander, and Sylvia T. Ceyer, the John C. Sheehan Professor of Chemistry. Membership in the Academy is considered one of the highest honors that can be accorded a US scientist or engineer.
Several MIT graduates were also among the 60 new members elected, including Tanya M. Atwater (SB '64), professor of geological sciences at the University of California at Santa Barbara; Richard W. Tsien (SB '65, SM), professor of molecular and cellular physiology at Stanford University and director of the Silvo Conte Center of Neuroscience Research; John M. Wallace (PhD '66), professor of atmospheric sciences and director of the Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington at Seattle; and Edward B. Watson (PhD '76), professor and chair, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Ren-sselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Professor Kim, who is also a member of the Whitehead Institute and an associate investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), recently discovered a structure on the surface of HIV that could lead to a new strategy for designing AIDS drugs. Professor Lander, a pioneer in gene mapping and sequencing, is director of the Whitehead-MIT Center for Genome Research. Professor Ceyer has done important research in surface chemistry which has significant applications in the conversion of natural gas to usable fuels.
This year's new members and 15 foreign associates were elected at the Academy's 134th annual meeting in Washington on April 29. The elections brought Academy membership to 1,773.
The NAS is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to furthering science and its use for the general welfare. It was established in 1863 by a Congressional act of incorporation, signed by Abraham Lincoln, that calls on the Academy to act as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology.
DR. SYLVIA CEYER
In her research, Professor Ceyer has uncovered several physical phenomena that are responsible for the differences in surface chemistry at high vs. low pressure. Her work belies the notion that solid surface is the sole source of energy in activating surface chemistry.
Appointed to the Sheehan chair last year, Professor Ceyer won the Science Teaching Prize in 1995 "for her care, clarity and inspired success in illuminating the concepts and resources of theoretical chemistry." She won the Nobel Laureate Signature Award for Graduate Education in 1993, the AAUW Educational Foundation Young Scholar Award, the Baker Memorial Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 1988, and the Harold E. Edgerton Award in 1987. She is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Professor Ceyer received the BA in chemistry from Hope College in Holland, MI, in 1974 and the PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in 1979. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the National Bureau of Standards from 1980-81 before coming to MIT as an assistant professor of chemistry in 1981. She was promoted to associate professor in 1987, received tenure the following year, and became a full professor in 1990. She was the first W.M. Keck Foundation Professor of Energy.
DR. PETER KIM
Professor Kim is a structural biologist whose primary research goals are to understand the structure of protein molecules, the building blocks of life, and to apply that knowledge to improved human health. He is particularly interested in proteins on the surface of viruses. He and his collaborators recently produced the first high-resolution pictures of the protein fragment that enables HIV to invade human cells, which has immediate implications for new drug design. Virus studies in the Kim lab will help shape strategies in vaccine development and gene therapy.
Professor Kim's work has earned him numerous awards, including the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology (1993), the DuPont Merck Young Investigator Award of the Protein Society, and the Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry (1994).
A graduate of Cornell University, Dr. Kim received the PhD in biochemistry from Stanford University in 1985. In 1988 he became an assistant professor of biology at MIT and an associate member of the Whitehead Institute, as well as the first recipient of the Leonard T. Skeggs, Jr., Whitehead Institute Fellowship. He was named an assistant investigator of the HHMI in 1990 and became a Whitehead member in 1992. He was promoted to HHMI associate investigator in 1993, and to professor of biology at MIT in 1995.
DR. ERIC LANDER
Professor Lander is a geneticist, molecular biologist and mathematician with research interests in human genetics, mouse genetics, population genetics, and computational and mathematical methods in biology. His laboratory produced the first genetic and physical maps of the human and mouse genomes and has used these tools to map genes involved in susceptibility to cancer, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and hypertension in humans and animals. He has also pioneered methods for mapping genetic diseases using information from isolated human populations, and has developed mathematical methods and computer software for genetic analysis.
Under his leadership, the Whitehead-MIT Center for Genome Research has played a central role in building the infrastructure for both structural and functional genomics. Its achievements include construction of the crucial scaffold map of the human genome required to begin sequencing all human chromosomes, completion of the first comprehensive genetic map of the mouse genome, and the development of robotic systems for genome mapping and DNA sequencing (known as the Genomatron and the Sequatron).
Among Professor Lander's many honors and awards are the Rhodes Scholarship (1978), the MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship (1987), the Baker Memorial Award for Undergraduate Teaching at MIT (1992), the Rhoads Memorial Award from the American Association for Cancer Research (1995), and the Dickson Prize in Medicine (1997). He was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1990.
A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Lander received the DPhil in mathematics from Oxford University in 1981. He was named a Whitehead Fellow in 1986 while still an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School, where he taught mathematics and economics. He became a Whitehead member and an associate professor of biology at MIT in 1989, achieving the rank of professor in 1993.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 7, 1997.