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U. of I. researcher named Fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor


William T. Greenough
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University of Illinois Photo
William T. Greenough has been named a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He studies the neural biology of the aging process, in particular how experience organizes the brain in adulthood.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — William T. Greenough, a researcher at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, today was named a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Greenough, 61, is among 195 scholars, scientists, artists, civic, corporate and philanthropic leaders from 24 states and 13 nations elected this year. The new Fellows include two former U.S. presidents; the Chief Justice of the United States; a Nobel laureate; winners of the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, drama, music, investigative reporting, and non-fiction; a former U.S. poet laureate; and a member of the French senate.

Greenough , who joined the Illinois faculty in 1968, was cited for his research that provided “the first clear evidence for the structural basis of memory.” He studies the neural biology of the aging process, in particular how experience organizes the brain in adulthood. He has long promoted the idea that the key element in behavioral plasticity is the “sculpting” (formation or retraction) of synaptic connections between neurons in the brain as a result of physical and mental activity.

His more recent research has led to significant advances in understanding the mechanisms involved in Fragile X Syndrome, the most common genetically inherited form of mental impairment. His findings have led to collaborative research efforts among scientists around the world to understand the disease and improve the lives of affected children.

His research has crossed across the disciplines and he holds multiple faculty appointments. He is a Swanlund Endowed Chair, director of the university’s Center for Advanced Study and a professor in the departments of psychology, cell and developmental biology, and psychiatry (College of Medicine).

U. of I. Chancellor Richard Herman praised the academy’s selection of Greenough.

“When the Urbana campus first conceived of an interdisciplinary research center, Bill Greenough was one of the strongest forces in shaping it and making it a reality,” Herman said. “Along with Karl Hess, he transcended traditional competition between physical and life sciences to establish the Beckman Institute as a world leader in interdisciplinary research.” Hess is a Swanlund Endowed Chair in electrical and computer engineering.

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Nobel Prize-winning biochemist and Rockefeller University President Sir Paul Nurse, and actor and director Martin Scorsese are among the new Fellows.

“I am honored to have been selected for membership in this truly august group of individuals in a broad array of societal roles,” Greenough said, “and I am pleased that it draws attention to all scientists working to solve the mysteries of Fragile X Syndrome, the largest cause of inherited mental retardation.”

Fellows and Foreign Honorary Members are nominated and elected to the Academy by current members. This year’s members – the 226th class of elected members – will be honored during the annual Induction Ceremony on Oct. 7 at the academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Mass. The academy was founded in 1780.

Greenough is the 35th U. of I. faculty member to be elected by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.