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National Academy Picks U Anthropologist

April 25, 2006 – James F. O’Connell, professor and chair of anthropology at the University of Utah, was elected Tuesday as a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.

The honor given to O”Connell’s means that at least 29 present or former University of Utah researchers have been elected to membership in one or more of the three groups under the umbrella organization known as The National Academies: the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine.

O’Connell becomes the third National Academy of Sciences member currently in the university’s Department of Anthropology, joining Professors Kristen Hawkes and Henry Harpending. Three former members of the same department – Jesse Jennings, Julian Steward and Jeremy Sabloff – also have been elected to the academy since the 1950s.

“The amazing thing is to have three members of the academy in a department of 14 full-time, regular faculty members,” O’Connell says, noting that anthropology departments at Harvard University and the University of Michigan each have four active members and University of California, Berkeley, has three.

“We’re right up there,” says O’Connell. “I am honored obviously, and very pleased to be associated with this department, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the university for the last 28 years.”

O’Connell was among 72 new members and 18 foreign associates elected Tuesday during the National Academy of Sciences’ 143rd annual meeting.

“Election to the academy is considered one of the highest honors in American science and engineering,” says Ralph Cicerone, who became president of the academy in 2005. Barbara Schaal, an academy member since 1999 who was elected last year as the academy’s first woman vice president, notes, “This year’s new class represents outstanding accomplishment in a wide variety of disciplines.”

O’Connell says his research “focuses on changes in human diet and their evolutionary implications, especially for the origins of genus Homo [the genus to which our species, Homo sapiens, belongs] roughly 2 million years ago, and for the development of agriculture in different parts of the world beginning about 10,000 years ago.”

“The other major theme has involved research on the initial colonization of Australia 40,000 to 45,000 years ago and its implications for arguments about the evolution of modern Homo sapiens, who were responsible for that initial colonization.”

The National Academy of Sciences is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for the general welfare. It was established in 1863 by a congressional act of incorporation signed by Abraham Lincoln that calls on the academy to act as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology. Additional information about the Academy and its members is available online at

Below are lists of other present or former University of Utah faculty elected to one or more of the National Academies. Note that some were elected before or after their tenure at the university:

  • National Academy of Sciences: Chemist Peter Stang, dean of the U’s College of Science; geologist-geochemist Thure Cerling; anthropologist Henry Harpending; anthropologist Kristen Hawkes; late anthropologist Jesse D. Jennings; chemist Cheves Walling; geneticist Mario Capecchi; biochemist Sidney Velick; biologist John R. Roth; chemist Josef Michl; geneticist Ray White; late anthropologist Julian Steward; and anthropologist Jeremy Sabloff.

  • National Academy of Engineering: R. Peter King; Adel Sarofim; Sun Wang Kim; Gerald Stringfellow; Donald Dahlstrom; the late George Hill; Jan D. Miller; Milton E. Wadsworth; the late Thomas G. Stockham; John Herbst; Stephen C. Jacobsen; and Willem J. Kolff.

  • Institute of Medicine: Jacobsen and Kim (both also are members of the National Academy of Engineering), obstetrician-gynecologist Eli Adashi and medical informatics professors Homer R. Warner and Paul D. Clayton.