McCormick prof invited to join prestigious national academy

Amy Hamblin

The National Academy of Sciences has elected Northwestern Prof. Stephen Davis to its elite group of scientists who counsel the government on everything from health to environmental issues.

A leader in fluid dynamics, Davis was invited to join the group during the group’s annual meeting in Washington held April 17-20. This year 72 new members were added to the academy.

“He’s an outstanding scholar, a really top-notch scientist,” said NU chemistry Prof. Tobin Marks, who became a member of the academy in 1993. “It takes a career to get to the level of accomplishment to be nominated and to go through the balloting process.”

Alvin Bayliss, department chairman for engineering sciences and applied mathematics, said professors like Davis, who works in his department, are helping the university improve the profile of the science and math programs.

“It’s just wonderful to have him on the faculty,” Bayliss said. “His prestige certainly increases the prestige of McCormick.”

Davis serves as an editor of two science magazines and has published more than 200 papers. He also is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, which advises the government on engineering matters.

Graduate student Scott Norris said Davis has stayed grounded and personable despite his accomplishments. Norris, a third-year applied mathematics graduate student, has been working on a project with Davis for the past year and a half.

“As far as academic professors go, he is pretty humble,” Norris said. “It makes him a really nice guy to work with.”

Davis brings the number of NU professors in the National Academy of Sciences back to 17 following the March death of NU Prof. John Pople, a Nobel Prize winner. The academy includes more than 2,000 members, and NU’s membership slowly has been increasing, said Marilyn McCoy, NU’s vice president for administration and planning.

Last year three NU professors were inducted into the group, McCoy said. Because the number of new members varies annually, the university never has an expectation for a certain number of inductees, she said.

“Having one (member) is terrific for an institution,” McCoy said. “Very few institutions have multiple. We haven’t traditionally had a lot.”

Since only members can elect others into the council, she said, it can be difficult for NU professors to gain a real hold in the group. In the upcoming years, this barrier should become less significant as the number of NU professors in the academy increases, she said.

Biochemistry Prof. Robert Lamb, who was inducted into the academy last year, said it might take awhile for NU to establish more of a presence in the group because of the complicated electoral process. It can often take several years to finalize a nomination.

“It’s more like a distillation process,” Lamb said of weeding out the nominees.

In his 21 years at NU, Lamb said the school has made great strides in terms of increasing membership within the academy and the quality of NU’s science programs.

“Look at all the new buildings and the research being done in them,” he said. “Things have been getting better.”