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Rice biophysicist receives national honor

By Nicole Zhao     5/22/12 7:00pm

Biophysicist Herbert Levine, Academy Award-winner Clint Eastwood and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton share at least one thing in common: All three were elected as fellows to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences this year, according to the Academy's website.

This year's class of 220 fellows, which includes winners of Emmy and Grammy Awards and the Pulitzer Prize, joins an honorary society that has included Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein as its members, the Academy's website states.

Levine will join Rice's faculty as the Hasselmann Professor of Bioengineering this summer, according to Department of Bioenginnering Interim Chair Rebecca Richards-Kortum. Levine is currently a physics professor at the University of California, San Diego, according to his website.

"Levine is one of the top biophysicists in the world," Richards-Kortum said. "He is a tremendous addition to Rice and the Department of Bioengineering. We are thrilled about his being named fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences."

Levine is also co-director of the Center for Theoretical Biological Physics, which is being relocated in stages to the BioScience Research Collaborative, according to a Rice News press release.

Levine said he and his colleagues hope to collaborate with scientists in the BRC and the Texas Medical Center to apply new concepts of physics to cancer treatment.

"I am very excited about the prospects of combining the intellectual capital of Rice with the astounding range of medical issues being pursued at the various parts of the Texas Medical Center so as to bring a more quantitative and more predictive approach to the understanding and treatment of disease," Levine said.

Levine's research interests lie in the physics of nonequilibrium systems, which has applications in various biological systems, his website states. According to Richards-Kortum, Levine's theoretical approaches have helped to explain the directed motion of eukaryotic cells. She added that Levine has contributed to scientists' understanding of the structures that bacteria create when forming biofilms on surfaces.

Founded in 1780, the Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center and honorary society of 4,600 fellows and 600 foreign honorary members.

According to its website, the Academy has a dual function: to elect to membership men and women of exceptional achievement and to conduct a varied program of projects and studies responsive to the needs and problems of society.

Levine said his election as a fellow signified to him not only recognition from his scientific peers of the impact of his research, but also the opportunity to apply his knowledge and research toward solving the problems that face society today.

"These organizations have a very important role in the worldwide dissemination of scientific knowledge and in putting forth the position that decisions about societal issues should be informed by the best available scientific information," Levine said. "These are vital topics for our collective future, and I hope to be able to use my new memberships to contribute to these areas in future years."

Levine, a member of the National Academy of Science, received his master's and doctorate degrees in physics from Princeton University and a bachelor's degree in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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