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, professor of mathematics in LSA, and Rosina Bierbaum, professor of natural resources and environment in 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.

Rosina Bierbaum

Photo of Rosina Bierbaum
Rosina Bierbaum

Bierbaum is a professor of natural resources and environmental policy at SEAS and the former dean of its predecessor, the School of Natural Resources and Environment. 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 President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology during the Obama administration, and 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 adviser to the Global Commission on Adaptation.

Bierbaum was 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. President Mark Schlissel honored her public engagement efforts in March with the President’s Award for National and State Leadership.

“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.”

SEAS Dean Jonathan Overpeck 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 in 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.”

Karen E. Smith

Photo of Karen Smith
Karen Smith

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.

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 fellow 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 mathematics department, 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.”

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