The members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) have elected Barbara A. Schaal, Ph.D., as its vice president.
The Spencer T. Olin Professor in Arts & Sciences in biology, Schaal becomes the first woman elected vice president of the academy. She will serve for four years, beginning July 1.
“Barbara Schaal is a premier scientist, and it is rewarding to the scientific community that she has been elected to such an important leadership role,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “She is a remarkably talented person who will serve with great distinction.”
Schaal, who served as chair of the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences from 1993-97, is known for applying molecular-genetic techniques to the study of plant evolution. Her research investigates the evolutionary process within plant populations using a wide variety of techniques, from field observations to quantitative genetics and molecular biology.
Schaal has studied hosts of plant species, ranging from oak trees to Mead’s milkweed, a Midwestern prairie plant.
Her recent work includes collaborating with students and peers to research the evolutionary genetics of plants in hopes of enriching crops such as cassava — the sixth-most important food crop in the world — and rice.
Born in Berlin, Schaal grew up in Chicago. She attended the University of Illinois at Chicago and graduated in 1969 with honors in biology. She earned a master’s degree in 1971 and a doctorate in 1974, both from Yale University.
She was a faculty member at the University of Houston from 1974-76 and at Ohio State University from 1976-1980.
In 1999, she was elected into the NAS, an honor that recognized her research investigating the evolutionary process within plant populations.
Schaal has also sat on numerous University committees, including the Academic Planning Committee in Arts & Sciences, the Curriculum Implementation Committee and the University Affirmative Action Committee. She serves on the National Research Council’s (NRC) Board on Life Sciences and she chairs an NRC Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology.
“The National Academy of Sciences is one of the world’s prestigious science academies, and its members have seen fit to elect Barbara Schaal as vice president,” said Edward S. Macias, Ph.D., executive vice chancellor, dean of Arts & Sciences, and the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences. “It’s remarkable that she becomes the first woman elected vice president. This is a wonderful honor for both Barbara and the University.
“It reflects the high esteem that her colleagues in the academy have for her, and her new title recognizes the commitment, wisdom, dedication and integrity that we’ve all seen first-hand from Barbara for decades.”
The NAS has nearly 2,000 members and 350 foreign associates; more than 190 have won Nobel Prizes.
“This is a tremendous recognition for Barbara primarily, but also for our department and University,” said Ralph S. Quatrano, Ph.D., the Spencer T. Olin Professor and biology department chair.
“Through her conscientious dedication and commitment to science and education, Barbara continues to achieve the highest levels of recognition.
“We are all very proud of her and of her accomplishments.”
The NAS, the NRC, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine comprise the National Academies, which bring together committees of experts to address critical national issues and give advice to the federal government and the public.
The National Academies are private, nonprofit institutions that issue more than 200 reports each year on subjects as varied as health care, astronomy, the environment, transportation, materials science, behavioral sciences, education and engineering. The academies maintain centers in Washington, D.C., Woods Hole, Mass., and Irvine, Calif.
Ralph J. Cicerone, chancellor of the University of California, Irvine, was elected president. The NAS president is a full-time employee of the organization, located at the academy’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., and is also chair of the NRC.
In addition, four members were elected to the academy’s governing council. Cicerone will serve a six-year term, and the new councilors for three years.