A First for Arizona: UA Regents’ Professor Elected as Foreign Secretary of National Academy of Sciences
John G. Hildebrand, Regents’ Professor of Neuroscience in the College of Science at the University of Arizona, has been elected foreign secretary of the National Academy of Sciences, making him one of the highest ranking executives in the academy.
It is the first time that the academy has selected a faculty member from an Arizona university for the position.
Hildebrand was selected by the academy’s Nominating Committee as a candidate for election to this position based on his extensive experience in the global science community, his outstanding scientific contributions, and his dedicated service to the academy.
“This is a tremendous honor for the UA and the entire state of Arizona,” said UA President Ann Weaver Hart. “It reinforces that the UA is home to some of the nation’s best and brightest scientists, and underscores our recognition and standing as a global powerhouse of innovation.”
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and – with the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council – provides science, technology and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.
As foreign secretary, Hildebrand will join the academy’s four other executive officers – the president, the vice president, the home secretary and the treasurer – and 12 elected members in the academy’s governing council. He will be responsible for the international activities of the academy during his four-year term, after which he will be eligible for re-election. His term begins July 1.
“I’m delighted and honored about reaching this stage in my career,” Hildebrand said. “As someone who has been very active in the global science community for a long time, it feels like a good fit.”
One of the most important roles of the academy and its governing council is its work with the National Research Council, a very large organization established by the National Academy about a century ago, Hildebrand said. “The NRC’s principal task is to provide studies advising the U.S. government on issues in science and technology that impact our lives, ranging from air and water pollution to climate change, STEM education, and the nation’s transportation networks.”
As an officer, he will continue to serve on the academy’s governing council and thus be involved in its work with the NRC, which has several divisions focusing on different areas of importance, as well as the governance of the National Academy itself.
He also will continue his predecessor’s efforts, on behalf of the National Academy, to build and maintain productive relationships with science academies elsewhere in the world. Hildebrand will work closely with two organizations associated with national academies in other countries: the Global Network of Science Academies and the Inter-Academy Council.
“My responsibilities will emphasize the interactions of the National Academy with other countries,” he said. “We have partnerships with academies across the world – for example, the Royal Society of London, the French Academy, and the Mexican Academy. Moreover, I will manage the processes involved in electing foreign associates to the National Academy, especially from underrepresented countries.”
Hildebrand, who has been a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 2007, was elected as one of 12 members of the academy’s council, its chief governing body, two years ago. That appointment is a working assignment – not an honorific one – as the council oversees all operations of the academy. Election to membership in the academy is considered one of the highest honors a U.S. scientist or engineer can achieve.
Hildebrand has received many honors and awards. He was elected to the German National Academy of Sciences, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1998, 1999 and 2001, respectively.
He has devoted his career to studying the neurobiology and behavior of insects and especially the olfactory system of the giant sphinx moth, Manduca sexta. His four-decade-long investigation made the moth, with its 4-inch wingspan and relatively big brain, an important model organism for studying the sense of smell. His studies have revealed not only how the moth’s olfactory system develops, but also how its brain detects and processes various natural odors, as well as how those odors influence specific behaviors.
Hildebrand joined the UA faculty in 1985 to establish and direct the division of neurobiology, part of the UA’s Arizona Research Laboratories devoted to insect neurobiology and behavior. In 2009 that unit became the Department of Neuroscience in the College of Science. He also led the creation of the UA Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience, launched in 1988.
“I view this appointment as a very important opportunity not just for me, but for the University. To have prominent representation is very good for the UA,” Hildebrand said.
Among the academy’s councilors elected this year to three-year terms is Nancy A. Moran, a former Regents’ Professor in the UA’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and now a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas.