Three Penn State faculty elected to National Academy of Sciences



Credit: Penn State

The National Academy of Sciences elected three members of Penn State’s faculty to its membership, one of the highest honors given to a scientist or engineer in the United States. Nina Jablonski, Evan Pugh University Professor of Anthropology; Jainendra K. Jain, Evan Pugh University Professor and Erwin W. Mueller Professor of Physics; and Peter Mészáros, Eberly Chair Professor, emeritus, of Astronomy and Astrophysics, have been recognized for their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

NAS is a private, nonprofit institution established in 1863 by a congressional charter signed by former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and — with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine — provides science, engineering, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

This year, the academy elected 120 members and 30 international members to its membership. The total membership in the academy is now 2,461 active members and 511 international members.

“Election to the National Academy of Sciences is among the greatest honors that a scientist can receive, and we are proud to see three outstanding individuals from Penn State earn this recognition,” said Lora Weiss, senior vice president for research. “Their dedication to discovery in a world with increasingly complex challenges is admirable. Congratulations to our well-deserving scholars.”

Nina Jablonski

Jablonski studies the evolution of human skin and hair, focusing specially on all aspects of skin pigmentation and the evolution of touch and body decoration. She explores attitudes about human diversity, especially as related to skin-color race concepts. She also studies the evolution of primate lineages in relationship to the environment, including the history of adaptation and diets and the factors influencing the origin and evolution of two-legged locomotion in the human lineage.

Jablonski also works in public education on human evolution, human physical diversity and racism.

She received her bachelor’s degree in 1975 from Bryn Mawr in biology and her doctorate in anthropology from the University of Washington in 1981. Jablonski has written numerous peer-reviewed papers, commentaries and book reviews, and presented scientific and public lectures around the world. She is the author of “Skin: A Natural History” (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2006), and “Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color”(Berkeley, University of California Press, 2012). She is also coauthor of “Skin we are in” (New Africa Books, 2018) a children’s book on diversity.

Jablonski was the primary scientific and educational content adviser for a variety of popular television documentary shows including the nine-part PBS webisode series, “Finding Your Roots: The Seedlings,” produced by WPSU in conjunction with WETA:

She was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2015, elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 2009, named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2002, and elected a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences in 1996.

Jainendra K. Jain

Jain specializes in theoretical condensed matter physics. His work includes theoretical approaches to understanding the unexpected emergent behaviors of strongly interacting quantum many body systems, especially in low dimensions. He is best known for predicting exotic particles known as composite fermions. He introduced and developed the composite fermion theory of the fractional quantum Hall effect and unified the fractional and the integral quantum Hall effects, two remarkable phenomena that occur when electrons in two-dimensions are subjected to a strong magnetic field.

He received a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1979 from Maharaja College, Jaipur, India, and his master’s in physics in 1981 from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, India. In 1985 he received a doctorate in physics from Stony Brook University. He has published 250 peer-reviewed papers and a monograph, “Composite Fermions” (Cambridge University Press, 2007), and coedited “Fractional Quantum Hall Effects: New Developments (World Scientific, 2020) with B.I. Halperin.

Jain became a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2012 and was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008. He was named a fellow of the American Physical Society in 1997, a fellow of John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 1996 and a fellow of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in 1991. In 2010, he received the distinguished alumnus award of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. He was a co-recipient of the 2002 Oliver E. Buckley Prize of the American Physical Society, which recognizes outstanding contributions in condensed matter physics.

Peter Mészáros

Mészáros is a theoretical astrophysicist who studies gamma-ray bursts, neutrino astrophysics, cosmology, cosmic rays, gravitational waves and neutron stars. He is director of the Center for Multimessenger Astrophysics and affiliated with the Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos, all at Penn State. He is part of the Astrophysical Multimessenger Observatory Network (AMON), and the Neil Gehrels Swift Gamma Ray Burst satellite. He also was affiliated with the Fermi Large Area Telescope and IceCube, the South Pole Neutrino Observatory.

Mészáros is known for his work on the relativistic fireball shock model of gamma ray bursts and their afterglows. Gamma ray bursts are enormous explosions that occur in distant galaxies and are thought to be the result of supernova implosions forming neutron stars and black holes. He also is responsible for the Mészáros effect, an equation in physical cosmology that quantifies how cold dark matter influences the initial formation of galaxies and galaxy clusters.

He received a master’s degree in physics from the National University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1967 and a doctorate in astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley in 1972. He was named a Legacy Fellow of the American Astronomical Society in 2020, elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2010 and an external member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 2010, and named a fellow of the American Physical Society in 1997. He has written more than 400 peer-reviewed papers, three books and numerous review articles.


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