The National Academy of Sciences, or NAS, announced May 2 that seven UC Berkeley professors were selected to become members of the academy.
Seven professors — neurobiologist Marla Feller, developmental endocrinologist tyrone hayes, chemists Jeffrey Long and T. Don Tilley, economists Hilary Hoynes and Emmanuel Saez and biochemist Donald Rio — join the academy’s 120 new members.
NAS, established by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, is an organization of distinguished scientists selected to provide “independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology,” according to the academy’s website.
According to Tilley, members are selected through a rather rigorous process in which current members of the academy nominate and vote on potential members.
Tilley, whose research spans the chemistry of transition metals and silicon, received his doctorate from UC Berkeley and is now the PMP Tech Chancellor’s Chair in Chemistry. In particular, Tilley is known for creating a metal silicone compound that polymerized silicone into a long chain of silicon atoms.
“It’s a great honor,” Tilley said of his selection. “I am thrilled over it. I think a lot of my former co-workers who are really important players in terms of developing the reputation of my research group — I owe it to them.”
In the future, Tilley plans to explore new catalytic reactions involving transition metals with silicon, exploring ways these reactions can be made more energy efficient and sustainable.
Also selected for membership at the National Academy of Sciences was tyrone hayes, a professor of integrative biology, a developmental endocrinologist and a herpetologist who studies reptiles and amphibians to explore the role that hormones play in development. Specifically, he focuses on interference with man-made environmental chemical contaminants.
“I’ve worked on a weed-killer called atrazine, and atrazine is the most common environmental contaminant in the world,” hayes said. “It’s the second-most widely used agrichemical, and we found that at very low levels (it) can be found in the environment. It causes a hormone imbalance in frogs that leads to genetic males developing female-type characteristics.”
hayes’ research found that genetically male frogs would develop ovaries because atrazine caused testosterone to transform into estrogen. In humans, hayes found that exposure to atrazine was associated with certain birth defects, including breast and prostate cancer and low sperm counts.
hayes is currently working to understand why individuals within a single family are affected differently by certain chemicals. For example, he studies why Black and Latine individuals are more likely to develop cancers and suffer deaths from those cancers.
“In particular, I’m concerned because those events occur more likely in low-income, first gen, immigrants and people of color because individuals from those categories are more likely to live in or work in places where they’re exposed to chemicals that we know are associated with adverse health outcomes,” hayes said.
In addition, hayes is interested in increasing inclusion, equity and a sense of belonging on campus, especially as UC Berkeley moves toward becoming a minority-serving institution.
For hayes, becoming a new member of the NAS is a huge professional and personal accomplishment, marking a milestone in the career of someone who did not come from a traditional academic background. He attributed his success to his students and colleagues who assisted him throughout his career.
“This is really a collective honor of not specifically my accomplishments, but the accomplishments of everybody who has been a part of my professional life, including my family,” hayes said.