Five Brown professors elected AAAS scholars
PROVIDENCE, RI [Brown University] — Five members of the Brown University faculty have been elected Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society. Election to membership is an honor bestowed on AAAS members by their peers, who nominate members for election by the AAAS Council, the association’s governing body.
The new class of AAAS Fellows includes 564 scientists, engineers, and innovators spanning 24 scientific disciplines who are recognized for their scientifically and socially distinguished achievements. The new class will be featured in the AAAS News & Notes section of the journal Science in January 2022, and an in-person celebration of new AAAS Fellows will be scheduled as soon as possible.
Dan Abramovich, math teacher
Dan Abramovich studies algebraic geometry, a branch of mathematics devoted to geometric shapes defined by polynomial equations. While algebraic geometry makes contributions to fields like computer science, robotics, and industrial processes, Abramovich‘s research is more closely related to applications in theoretical physics, where physicists view algebraic varieties as components of fine structure of the universe. Abramovich is praised for his work on singularities – points where functions and equations “explode”, producing infinities or ill-defined quantities. A method Abramovich developed for solving singularities won him an invitation to speak at the last International Congress of Mathematicians, the largest and most prestigious mathematics conference in the world. His work has earned him prestigious grants from the Simons Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. He is also a member of the American Mathematical Society.
The AAAS recognized Abramovich “for distinguished contributions to arithmetic and algebraic geometry, and for exemplary graduate student mentorship”.
Walter Atwood, professor of medical sciences and neurology, vice president of molecular biology, cell biology and biochemistry
Walter Atwood studies polyomaviruses, in particular JCPyV and BKPyV, which infect more than 70% of the human population worldwide. His lab was the first to formally demonstrate that JCPyV requires sialic acid and serotonin receptors on cells to establish infection, and his work on virus entry led to the discovery that a small molecule known under the name of Retro-2 could inhibit the infection of cells by JCPyV. His most recent work focuses on an alternative mechanism of viral infection involving extracellular vesicles, which may escape detection by the immune system. Atwood holds a patent on a compound and its derivatives for the treatment and prevention of infections. He is an elected member of the American Academy of Microbiology.
The AAAS recognized Atwood “for his distinguished contributions to molecular virology, in particular for making fundamental discoveries concerning the processes by which polyomaviruses infect cells and cause human disease”.
Anne Church Hart, Professor and Chair of Neuroscience
Anne Church Hart is a neuroscientist who uses genetic and molecular approaches to understand the mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative diseases and nervous system functioning. In the late 1990s, his research group was the first to create useful and explicit models of human neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Huntington’s disease, using the tiny invertebrate nematodes known as C. elegans. These models, along with subsequent work, helped found a community of researchers using models of C. elegans to study the mechanisms of human disease. Hart’s published work has helped delineate pathways and mechanisms relevant to neurodegenerative diseases, including Huntington’s disease, spinal muscular atrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and frontal temporal dementia. Hart’s research also includes the use of C. elegans to help define the genetic and molecular mechanisms regulating sleep and fatigue. In addition to her roles at Brown, Hart is the MBL Society Lecturer at the Marine Biological Laboratory.
The AAAS recognized Church Hart “for his distinguished contributions using C. elegans to delineate the molecular mechanisms underlying sleep and the pathology of neurodegenerative diseases, including Huntington’s disease, spinal muscular atrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontal temporal dementia”.
Jill Pipher, Professor of Mathematics, Vice President for Research
Jill Pipher’s primary research interests are in areas of mathematics that have broad applications in the physical and life sciences, including harmonic analysis and partial differential equations. His joint work in cryptography, with Brown professors Jeffrey Hoffstein and Joseph Silverman, led to the development of a patented public-key encryption system and a start-up called NTRU Cryptosystems, which was acquired by a major security software in 2009. The NTRU concept is widely used today and is considered one of the few cryptographic systems resistant to attacks from future quantum computers. In 2020, the National Institute of Standards and Technology selected NTRU (and a related algorithm called FALCON) for the third and final round of its search for industry standards in post-quantum security. Among many other accolades, Pipher is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Inventors. She was president of the American Mathematical Society from 2019 to 2020 and was founding director of Brown’s Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics (ICERM).
The AAAS recognized Pipher for “his profound contributions to analysis and partial differential equations, his groundbreaking work in the field of public-key cryptography, and his outstanding scientific leadership.”
Ming Xian, chemistry teacher
Ming Xian works at the interface between chemistry and biology. He is particularly interested in sulfur-based signaling molecules such as hydrogen sulfide, persulfides and S-nitrosothiols. These molecules play an important role in a number of physiological processes within human cells. However, a detailed understanding of their biological functions is difficult because these molecules are extremely reactive and can undergo a number of possible biochemical changes that form complex reaction products. The Xian lab strives to understand the basic chemistry and properties of these molecules, and to develop new chemical tools to facilitate further research. Ultimately, a better understanding of these compounds could lead to a more comprehensive understanding of cell signaling and new therapies for diseases and disorders related to these processes. Xian’s work is supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and other key funders.
The AAAS recognized Xian “for his distinguished contributions to the chemistry and chemical biology of reactive sulfur species”.