ANN ARBOR—Two University of Michigan faculty members, a mathematician and an environmental policy expert, have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest distinctions for a scientist or engineer in the United States.
Karen E. Smith, a professor of mathematics, and Rosina Bierbaum, a professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability, are among the 100 new members and 25 foreign associates elected in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research, the NAS has announced.
Forty percent of the newly elected members are women—the most ever elected in any one year to date, according to the academy. Those elected today bring the total number of active members to 2,347 and the total number of foreign associates to 487.
Bierbaum is a professor of natural resources and environmental policy at SEAS and the former dean there. She is an expert on environmental policy, sustainable development and climate change adaptation. She’s also the Roy F. Weston Chair of Natural Economics at the University of Maryland.
Bierbaum served on the Obama Administration’s President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. She ran the first Environment Division of the White House Science Office in the Clinton Administration. She chairs the Science and Technical Advisory Panel of the Global Environment Facility and is currently a science advisor to the Global Commission on Adaptation.
Bierbaum was the lead author of the climate adaptation chapter in the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment, released in 2014. She was a review editor of the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report about climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. She was recently honored by U-M President Mark Schlissel for her public engagement efforts, receiving the President’s Award for National and State Leadership in March.
“I remember sitting on the National Academies’ stage in 1996 with Vice President Al Gore at a climate symposium thinking this is the closest I’ll ever get to being a member of this august group,” Bierbaum said.
“How I wish all my mentors who supported me over the years could be here to celebrate this day. Without their firm belief that assessing science and turning it into useable information for policymakers domestically and internationally is a noble profession, I wouldn’t be so honored. They all took a chance on a girl from smoggy Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who wanted to emulate Rachel Carson—another Pennsylvanian—and protect and preserve the Earth.”
Jonathan Overpeck, dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability, said: “Rosina Bierbaum is a living example of someone with tremendous cumulative impact in both scholarship and practice. She inspires those of us who work with her to believe that we, too, can make a difference the realm of academia and far beyond.
“Rosina’s election to the National Academy of Sciences is a wonderful honor, and an apt recognition of her lifetime of scholarship and service.”
Smith researches the interface of commutative algebra and algebraic geometry. She has taught at U-M since 1997 and is currently the M.S. Keeler Professor and associate chair for graduate studies in the Department of Mathematics at the College of Literature, Sciences, and the Arts.
She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1993, held a postdoctoral position at Purdue University from 1993 to 1994, and then became an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Throughout her career, Smith has won the Ruth Lyttle Prize in Mathematics, a Sloan Research Fellowship, a Fulbright award and a U-M Faculty Recognition award for outstanding contributions as a teacher, scholar and member of the university community. She was also elected as a follow of the American Mathematical Society in 2015.
“To be elected to the National Academy of Science is a truly humbling honor,” Smith said. “There are so many brilliant mathematicians doing amazing work, and I know that not all can be chosen.
“I am grateful to so many mentors and supporters—too many to begin listing—without whose help I would never have entered a career in mathematics after my degree or continued with my research when life got hard, let alone achieved this honor. I will do my best to be worthy of the esteem the Academy members have placed in me, and to mentor future mathematicians to the same heights.”
Anthony Bloch, chair of the U-M Department of Mathematics, said: “I would like to congratulate Karen Smith on this tremendous honor. Karen is renowned for her work in commutative algebra and algebraic geometry.
“In addition to other honors, she delivered the 2016 Emmy Noether Lecture at the Joint Mathematics Meetings. She also contributes to the mathematics department and community in many different ways. She is a fantastic teacher and does a wonderful job currently as associate chair for graduate studies.”