In a slightly lower-profile fall election, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has recently voted to make three Yale faculty members fellows of the association.
Biology professor Ronald Breaker, University provost and chemist Andrew Hamilton and sociology professor Karl Mayer were among the 308 new fellows selected by the AAAS. The inductions honor efforts to advance science and discover new applications. The AAAS is best known for publishing Science, the world’s largest journal dedicated to scientific study. The fellows’ names were published in the journal Oct. 29.
“It certainly is always special to be recognized by your colleagues,” Breaker said. “It’s the best compliment that a research scientist can be paid.”
Breaker, who was named a fellow in the category of biological sciences, is particularly recognized for his discovery of the many unknown and beneficial applications of RNA molecules.
Breaker said he always had a deep interest in how RNA and DNA molecules performed their roles in biology. He said he coupled that interest with the question of how life began and evolved from very simple molecules to the complex macromolecules of modern times.
“His scientific contribution to this lab in the past couple years has really put us on the map,” Benjamin Boese GRD ’07, a graduate student who works in the Breaker Lab, said.
Boese said he believes Breaker deserves his recent honor, and Breaker has taught him many valuable things.
Jeffrey Barrick GRD ’07, another graduate student working in the Breaker Lab, said Breaker is highly dedicated to his work and spreads his enthusiasm throughout the lab.
“He will have the whole lab join in a huge cooperative effort to answer a single question; it challenges assumptions,” Barrick said.
While it is molecules under the microscope in Breaker’s lab, Mayer’s research magnifies a very different component of science — sociology. Through his empirical studies he has compared social inequality and mobility in Europe, which has lead to new theories of political economy.
Mayer, together with younger colleagues, recently published a monograph on transitions to adulthood of women and men born in the 1960s and early 1970s. He said he is currently writing a book on life courses during the post-socialist transformations of East Germany.
“It is always surprising to me that my colleagues — see my work less critically than I do myself,” Mayer said in an e-mail.
While Mayer was thankful for the support of his colleagues, he said he was more grateful for the spotlight the AAAS shined on the field of sociology.
“The more important thing is the recognition of quantitative and empirical sociology,” Mayer said in an e-mail. “Especially at Yale, we need more of it.”
Hamilton was named a fellow for research more similar to that of Breaker than that of Mayer. His research in biophysics and biochemistry and achievements in bioorganic chemistry, including catalyst development and enzyme inhibition, earned him his fellowship.
Jessica Davis GRD ’07, a graduate student in Hamilton’s lab, said Hamilton is a great professor and gives students freedom in the lab. Among many discoveries, Hamilton said his lab has successfully identified molecules that kill malaria parasites in models of human malaria.
“I like having the independence he gives us to follow our own instincts and to follow our own leads while guiding us to make sure we don’t go too much off in our own direction,” Davis said. “That’s what I was looking for in a lab and that’s what I got.”
Hamilton said he was pleased by the award but remained modest regarding his work as a scientist.
“It’s very nice to be recognized by one’s peers for the work that has been the product of hard slogs,” Hamilton said.
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