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Three Professors Elected to National Academy of Sciences

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Three Penn State faculty members were elected to the National Academy of Sciences during its recent 140th annual meeting.

New members are George E. Andrews, Evan Pugh professor of mathematics, Eberly College of Science; A. Catharine Ross, Dorothy Foehr Huck chair in nutrition, College of Health and Human Development; and Alan Walker, Evan Pugh professor of anthropology and biology, jointly in the College of the Liberal Arts and the Eberly College of Science.

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Andrews’ research centers on number theory, partitions and related areas of mathematics. A partition of a whole number is a representation of that number as a sum of positive whole numbers. For example, the seven partitions of the number 5 are 5 itself; 4+1; 3+2; 3+1+1; 2+2+1; 2+1+1+1; and 1+1+1+1+1.

He also has applied number theory, particularly partition theory, to such diverse areas as computer programs for algebra and the behavior of liquid helium on a surface. In 1976, Andrews discovered the “Lost Notebook” of Srinivasa Ramanujan among papers from the estate of G.N. Watson in the Trinity College Library, Cambridge University, England.

Ramanujan, the self-taught Indian mathematician who had revolutionized the theory of numbers and the study of partitions in the early 20th century, died in 1920 at the age of 32. Andrews is one of the foremost authorities on Ramanujan’s work.

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Ross has made major contributions to understanding the functions and metabolism of Vitamin A by linking basic biochemical research with dietary studies. Vitamin A is essential to the health of the eyes, skin and immune system, and its deficiency is one of the most prevalent and serious nutrition problems worldwide.

Early in her career, Ross characterized a protein that acts as a traffic monitor directing an active form of vitamin A to the liver for storage, to the intestine for absorption or to the mammary gland during lactation. Recently, her research has turned to the molecular and genetic regulations of vitamin A activity. Using rats and mice, she and colleagues cloned and the gene for an enzyme that is critical to Vitamin A storage in the liver. She is currently continuing this research in human cell lines and biopsy tissues.

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Walker is one of the world’s foremost experts on the evolution of primates and humans. His research involves searching for primate and human fossils in rocks dated from about 30 million to 1 million years ago. He pioneered the study of living primates as a basis for the analysis of fossils and was one of the first to use scanning electron microscope studies of enamel microwear on teeth to understand the diets of extinct mammals.

He has made many important discoveries during the past three decades at paleontological digs in Africa with his collaborators Richard and Meave Leakey. In 1994, he and Meave Leakey discovered the skeletal remains of a previously unknown species in the human lineage. They named the 4-million-year-old ancestor Australopithecus anamensis and subsequent analysis showed that this hominid walked upright. He is the author of Nariokotome Homo erectus Skeleton, Structure and Function of the Human Skeleton and Wisdom of the Bones.

Andrews, Ross and Walker join seven current faculty members who are members of the National Academy of Science:

* Stephen J. Benkovic, Evan Pugh professor and Eberly family chair in chemistry, elected in 1985;

* A. Welford Castleman Jr., Evan Pugh professor of chemistry, elected in 1998;

* Moses Chan, Evan Pugh professor of physics, elected in 2000;

* Nina V. Fedoroff, Evan Pugh professor of life sciences and the Verne M. Willaman chair in life sciences, elected in 1990;

* Gerald Mahan, distinguished professor of physics and materials, elected in 1995;

* Masatoshi Nei, Evan Pugh professor of biology, elected in 1997; and

* Roger Penrose, Francis R. and Helen M. Pentz distinguished professor of physics, elected in 1998.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for the general welfare. It was established in 1863 by a Congressional act of incorporation, signed by Abraham Lincoln, which calls on the academy to act as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology. Election to the academy is one of the highest honors accorded to U.S. scientists or engineers by their peers.

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