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Three elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Three Cornell faculty members were elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the academy announced April 24. The new class includes 198 leaders from academia, business, public affairs, the humanities and the arts, who will be inducted Oct. 12 at the academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.

The faculty members are: Kenneth Kemphues, professor of genetics and chair of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics; John Lis, the Barbara McClintock Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics; and Sandra Vehrencamp, professor emerita of neurobiology and behavior.

Kenneth Kemphues

Kemphues, who joined the Cornell faculty in 1984, researches the related questions of embryonic polarity and cell polarity using the nematode C. elegans as a model organism. In many animals, the determination of a cell’s fate depends on the proper segregation of factors in the egg cytoplasm prior to or during cleavage, the division of cells in the early embryo. Among other achievements, his lab has identified a set of genes that are required for proper cytoplasmic partitioning in early embryos, and has studied how mutations to these genes can lead to embryo death.

Kemphues is a member of the Genetics Society of America, the Society for Developmental Biology, and is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

John Lis

Lis, who became a faculty member in 1978, develops and uses many strategies to probe the structure of promoters and genes and the regulation of their activities in living cells. His lab investigates these issues through heat shock genes, a highly regulated set of genes that can be manipulated to induce mRNA production. Lis studies factors that participate in the heat shock gene induction response, determines when, where and with whom the factors act during the process of gene activation, and evaluates the functional and structural consequences of rapid inactivation of these factors. The resulting information is critical in establishing molecular models for the various steps in the activation of genes through transcription and coupled RNA processing events.

Lis received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2000 and is also an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Sandra Vehrencamp

Vehrencamp, Ph.D. ’76, joined the faculty in 1999 and retired in 2010. She is a founder of the field of behavioral ecology. She holds professor emerita appointments in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Her research integrates the evolution of social behavior, life-history evolution, signal evolution, sexual selection and parental care. She has made important contributions to several areas of ornithology: the evolution of cooperative breeding, including general theoretical work on the conditions for despotic and egalitarian societies; the reproductive ecology of cuckoos, with a focus on the evolution of joint nesting; the evolutionary significance of sexual displays; and evolutionary aspects of avian song.

Vehrencamp has traveled widely in pursuit of her studies. She received the 2011 William Brewster Memorial Award from the American Ornithologists’ Union and the Exemplar Award (jointly with her spouse, Jack Bradbury, the Robert G. Engel Professor of Ornithology Emeritus) from the Animal Behavior Society, and is an elected fellow in both of these societies. She has published more than 70 papers and 18 book chapters, and co-authored two editions of a textbook on animal communication.