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UT News

Three UT Austin Faculty Elected to National Academy of Sciences

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AUSTIN, Texas — Astrophysicist Katherine Freese, astronomer John Kormendy and evolutionary biologist Mark Kirkpatrick of The University of Texas at Austin have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. They join 120 new members recognized by the academy this year for distinguished and continuing achievements in original scientific research.

The National Academy of Sciences is the country’s most prestigious scientific organization, and election to membership in the academy is one of the highest honors that can be accorded a scientist in the United States.

“I am exceedingly proud of these extraordinary colleagues and scientific leaders,” said Paul Goldbart, dean of UT Austin’s College of Natural Sciences. “Professors Freese, Kirkpatrick and Kormendy exemplify the excellence that we are fortunate to have in Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin.”

Freese, who holds the Jeff and Gail Kodosky Endowed Chair in Physics, works on a wide range of topics in theoretical cosmology and astroparticle physics. She has been working to identify the dark matter and dark energy that permeate the universe as well as to build a successful model for the early universe immediately after the Big Bang. She is author of the book The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter, published in June 2014. She received her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago in 1984. She received an NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award (1990), a Simons Foundation Fellowship in Theoretical Physics (2012) and the Lilienfeld Prize from the American Physical Society (2019). Read a Q&A here.

Kirkpatrick is the T.S. Painter Centennial Professor in Genetics in the Department of Integrative Biology. Among his many accomplishments, he has helped explain how mating preferences drive the evolution of male traits and how sex chromosomes originate and evolve. He was previously elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (2008) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2016). He received a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Washington in 1983. He is a member of the university’s Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, and Biodiversity Center.

“Mark has long been known as one of the leaders in theoretical population genetics, that is, the formal and fundamental framework for understanding the evolutionary process,” said Nancy Moran, a professor of integrative biology at UT Austin and fellow member of the National Academy of Sciences. “He is continually contributing new insights into how organisms and their genes and genomes evolve. He’s also co-author on the most authoritative textbook in evolutionary biology, another indication of his breadth and of the high regard in which he is held in the field.”

Kormendy is the Curtis T. Vaughan, Jr. Centennial Chair Emeritus in Astronomy. He studies the structure and dynamics of stars, gas and dark matter in galaxies, including supermassive black holes in galaxy centers and cosmological dark matter in galaxy halos. He received a Ph.D. in astronomy from the California Institute of Technology in 1976. He has been awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (1970), the Muhlmann Prize of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (1988), a Humboldt Research Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Germany (2006), and External Membership in the Max-Planck-Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching-by-Munich, Germany (2012). Read more about his research here.

The election of these three brings the number of current faculty members from UT Austin’s College of Natural Sciences elected to the academy to 16.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership and — with the National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Medicine and National Research Council — provides science, technology and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

View a list of other members of the National Academies in the College of Natural Sciences.