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Three U Professors Honored

April 20, 2009 – University of Utah geneticist Mario Capecchi, anthropologist Kristen Hawkes and chemist Cynthia Burrows have been elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the group announced today.

The Utah scientists were among 210 new fellows and 19 foreign honorary members elected to the academy, which calls itself “one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies and a center for independent policy research.”

“It’s so fantastic,” says Hawkes, a distinguished professor of anthropology. “What a wonderful honor – and how remarkable to be in the company of those Utah colleagues.”

The new fellows from the University of Utah are:

  • Capecchi, a distinguished professor and co-chair of human genetics, and a winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the development of gene targeting, in which genes in mice are “knocked out” to see what goes wrong and thus learn their normal function.

  • Burrows, a distinguished professor of chemistry, studies damage to DNA – which caries the genetic blueprint in every living organism – and how such damage is caused by the oxidation of substances such as “free radicals” from environmental toxins and from metabolism in the body.

  • Hawkes, a distinguished professor anthropology, is well known for her “grandmother hypothesis,” which holds that in hunter-gatherer, societies, grandmothers play a key role in feeding and caring for grandchildren while their mother has another baby. Hawkes believes this may explain how humans evolved a long lifespan.

The academy’s new fellows will be inducted at a ceremony on Oct. 10 at the academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.

“These remarkable men and women have made singular contributions to their fields, and to the world,” says academy President Emilio Bizzi. “By electing them as members, the academy honors them and their work, and they, in turn, honor us.”

The academy was established in 1780 by some of the nation’s founders, including John Adams and John Hancock. Other members have included George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Daniel Webster, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill. Current members include more than 250 Nobel laureates.

Among other new fellows are biographer Robert Caro, author Thomas Pynchon, actors Dustin Hoffman and James Earl Jones, singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and National Public Radio journalist Susan Stamberg.

New foreign members are 1993 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela; Bono, lead singer of the group U2 and advocate for humanitarian causes; British actress Judith Dench and 2009 Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.

The academy undertakes studies of complex and emerging problems. Current projects focus on science, technology and global security; social policy and American institutions; the humanities and culture; and education.

A complete list of newly elected Fellows and Honorary Foreign Members with their affiliations is located at: