Four UChicago faculty elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

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Four University of Chicago faculty members have been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honorary societies. They include Profs. Francisco Bezanilla, Mercedes Pascual, Margaret Beale Spencer and Kenneth Warren.

The scholars join the 2019 class of 214 individuals, announced April 17, which includes world leaders in academia, business, government and public affairs whose impactful work informs policy and advances the public good. This year’s class also includes seven UChicago alumni along with former First Lady Michelle Obama, who previously served as an administrator at the University of Chicago Medical Center.


Francisco Bezanilla, the Lillian Eichelberger Cannon Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, is a pioneer in understanding voltage channels in excitable cells—the complex electrical dance by which cells, especially neurons, carry out their duties and communicate with others. In seminal experiments at the UChicago-affiliated Marine Biological Laboratory, he took the first measurements of the movement of tiny charges that cells use to detect electrical signals in their membranes. Currently, he studies the voltage sensors at the molecular level—both to understand how the structure generate the function of sensors themselves and to be able to predict the signals based on their motions. His studies led to the development of “optocapacitance,” where light can be used to stimulate nerve and muscle.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science as well as the Biophysical Society, where he has served as president.


Prof. Mercedes Pascual studies the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases. In particular, she is a leader in the field of how disease moves through populations based on changes to the environment—such as how climate variability and climate change affect vector-borne and water-borne diseases like malaria and cholera. This is particularly important as human development worldwide continues to expand and disrupt ecosystems. Her work spans multiple temporal, spatial and organizational scales, from decades-long patterns in disease incidence to within megacity maps of infection risk, to the molecular changes to pathogens as they evolve to escape the immune system. She combines mathematical, statistical and computational approaches with partnering with public health and research partners around the world.

Pascual is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where she has served on the board of directors since 2015 to 2019, and a recipient of the 2014 R. MacArthur Award of the Ecological Society of America.

Margaret Beale Spencer is the Marshall Field IV Professor of Urban Education in the department of Comparative Human Development. Spencer, PhD’76, studied child and developmental psychology as a student at UChicago, and has spent her academic career trying to make room for the experiences of marginalized people within psychology’s view of human development. She was previously on faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, where she served as the director of the Center for Health Achievement Neighborhood Growth and Ethnic Studies, and inaugural director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Collective Research Institute.

Last year, the American Psychological Association awarded Spencer the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Urie Bronfenbrenner Award for Distinguished Contributions to Developmental Science. She was also one of the winners of UChicago’s 2017 Diversity Leadership Awards.


Kenneth Warren is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor in English, and an expert on American and African American literature from the late 19th century through the middle of the 20th century. He is the author of What Was African American Literature? (2010), So Black and Blue: Ralph Ellison and the Occasion of Criticism (2003) and Black and White Strangers: Race and American Literary Realism (1993). He has co-edited other books and written for various publications, and also advised Court Theatre’s award-winning 2012 adaptation of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

A member of the UChicago faculty since 1991, Warren was a 2005 winner of the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

The seven UChicago alumni elected to this year’s class are Jane Buikstra, AM’69, PhD’72; Melanie Cobb, AB’71; Gerald Gabrielse, SM’75, PhD’80; Judith Goldstein, AB’70; Tracey Mears, JD’91; Dianne Pinderhughes, AM’73, PhD’77; and Mark Rausher, AB’73.

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