Three UChicago faculty elected to National Academy of Sciences

Three University of Chicago faculty members are among the 2018 members of the National Academy of Sciences, announced May 1: Profs. Joy Bergelson, Olaf Schneewind and Richard Thaler.

These scholars, studying microbiology, evolution and behavioral economics, were among the 84 new members and 21 foreign associates recognized by their peers for “their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.”

Joy Bergelson is the James D. Watson Professor in Ecology and Evolution and chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolution​. Research in her lab is best known for dispelling the long-held belief that arms-race dynamics typify the evolution of plant resistance to microbial pathogens in nature. An early researcher in research on the plant Arabidopsis thaliana​, particularly from an evolutionary and ecological perspective, Bergelson and her group completed the first experiments using genetically manipulated plants to disentangle the mechanisms driving observed evolutionary dynamics. They have also pioneered research at the interface of ecology and evolution, namely eco-evolutionary dynamics.

Through her international collaborations, Bergelson has been instrumental in developing genome-wide association mapping in Arabidopsis, providing resources to the community and ultimately leading to the 1001 Genomes project. She has received numerous other awards; she is a Fellow of Association for the Advancement of Science, a Packard Fellow, a Marshall Fellow, a Presidential Faculty Fellow and a Cheung Kong Scholar Honorary Professor.​

Olaf Schneewind is the Louis Block Professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology. He is best known for his work discovering sortases—enzymes that assemble proteins in the envelope of Gram-positive bacteria. Without sortases and their surface protein substrates, bacteria (such as Staphylococcus aureus or its drug-resistant forms, known as MRSA) cannot cause disease or interact with their environment.

Investigation of sortase motif sequences has enabled Schneewind and his team to identify the surface proteins of any bacterial pathogen based on genome sequences and to study these molecules for their contributions to disease establishment and for vaccine development. These insights have allowed his team to find and study how S. aureus evades detection by the immune system and to create vaccines for safety and efficacy testing in humans.

Richard Thaler is the Charles R. Walgreen Distinguished Service Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. One of the founders of the field of behavioral economics, Thaler studies the psychology of decision-making which lies in the gap between economics and psychology. His pioneering work was honored in October 2017 when Thaler was awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.

The author of the best-selling books Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics (2015) and Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness (2008), Thaler is director of the Center for Decision Research and co-director of the Behavioral Economics Project at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the American Finance Association and the Econometrics Society, and a past president of the American Economic Association.

Established by an Act of Congress signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, the National Academy of Sciences is charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology. Its scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, founded in 1914, is today one of the premier international research journals.