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Three from MIT elected to NAS

Professors of Physics David E. Pritchard, Ford Professor of Engineering Emeritus Ronald F. Probstein and Professor of Psychology Elizabeth Spelke are among the 60 new members elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) last week.

NAS elected 60 new members and 15 foreign associates from 10 countries in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

Election to membership in the academy is considered one of the highest honors that can be accorded a US scientist or engineer. Those recently elected bring the total number of active members to 1,825.

Professor Pritchard is a principal investigator in the Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics group and works on basic atomic physics in the Research Laboratory of Electronics. He is a 1962 graduate of the California Institute of Technology and received the PhD from Harvard in 1968.

The Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics Group is experimentally oriented and focused on the fundamental properties of atoms and their interactions. Professor Pritchard's group invented the magneto-optical laser trap for cold atoms, which is in use in hundreds of labs worldwide, as well as the Ioffe-Pritchard magnetic trap for cold atoms which is often used to study Bose-Einstein condensates. His group currently operates the world's most accurate mass spectrometer, which is based on the trapping of single ions. The group has pioneered atom interferometry for rpecise measurement of various atomic properties as well as detection of rotation. These techniques promise an improvement in atomic clock accuracy by several orders of magnitude.

Professor Probstein, professor of mechanical engineering and Ford Professor of Engineering emeritus, specializes in fluid mechanics with application to diverse areas, including physicochemical flows and environmental problems, his current interests. He earned the BME in 1948 from New York University, and the MSE (1950), AM (1951) and PhD (1952) from Princeton University. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has received an honorary degree from Brown University.

Professor Probstein, who has completed 10 books, six patents and more than 125 technical papers, has made fundamental and seminal contributions to the development of the theories governing hypersonic flow and dust comet behavior, as well as to understanding desalination and separation science. His work led to the development of physicochemical hydrodynamics and synthetic fuels as coherent disciplines, and he pioneered techniques for using electrical fields to remove contaminants from soils.

Professor Spelke is a member of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. She received the BA from Radcliffe College in 1971 and the PhD from Cornell University in 1978. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has received an honorary degree from Umea University (Sweden).

Professor Spelke's research probes the origins, development and nature of human knowledge of space, number and material objects. She has contributed to understanding of the perceptual and cognitive capacities of human infants, including infants' abilities to relate what they see to what they hear, to represent hidden objects, to reason in distinctive ways about inanimate object motion and human action, and to apprehend numerical and geometrical properties of the environment. She also has explored how distinct, early-developing cognitive systems interact to support new systems of knowledge in children and adults.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to furthering science and its use for the general welfare. The academy, established by Congress in 1863, acts as an official adviser to the federal government in matters of science or technology.

A version of this article appeared in the May 5, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 29).

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