Two University of Colorado professors have been elected members to the National Academy of Sciences.
John Wahr, professor of physics at CU-Boulder, and Kurt Beam in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in the School of Medicine, received the honor that recognizes scientists and engineers for their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.
Wahr, who also is a fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, is an expert on theoretical geophysics and on the use of satellite measurements to better understand the planet and its atmosphere. In recent years he has been using NASA’s GRACE satellite system to measure the depletion of water and ice stored in Earth’s glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets, soils and aquifers.
In February, Wahr, a Professor of Distinction, co-led a high-profile study using GRACE to measure mass loss in global glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets during the past decade and the resulting contribution to sea level rise. Wahr also is a leading authority on the study of Earth’s rotation, Earth and ocean tides, and crustal deformation.
A major focus of Beam’s laboratory work is on the molecules that link electrical signals in muscle to contraction (“excitation-contraction coupling”). Beam’s work has helped to identify a protein, the dihydropyridine receptor (DHPR), which “senses” the electrical signal, and to identify how the DHPR interacts with another protein (called the ryanodine receptor, RyR) to control the movement of calcium ions, which are the chemical messengers that cause contraction. This understanding is important because excitation-contraction coupling is a fundamental process necessary for our ability to breathe and move, and also because mutations of the DHPR and RyR result in serious human afflictions, including long-term muscle weakness, periodic paralysis and a potentially fatal complication during surgery.
Beam and his colleagues are working to determine regions of close proximity between the proteins (i.e., potential sites of interaction), whether those regions “move” during physiological function, and how these are altered by mutations causing human muscle disease.
There were 84 new members and 21 foreign associates from 15 countries elected to the academy in 2012.
Wahr is one of 25 CU-Boulder faculty members who have been elected to NAS. He joins seven other CU-Boulder physics faculty previously elected to the academy: Noel Clark, Eric Cornell, Deborah Jin, John Hall, Margaret Murnane, Carl Wieman and Jun Ye.
Beam’s nomination and election to the Physiology and Pharmacology sub section of the NAS places him among 52 fellow members, of whom six are Nobel Laureates.