Five From USC Named AAAS Fellows

Capone, Mataric, Nikias, Shih and Taylor are recognized for distinguished contributions in science and engineering.
USC College professor Douglas Capone

Five leading scientists at USC, including Provost C. L. Max Nikias, have been named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in recognition of outstanding contributions in science and engineering.

Nikias and Maja Mataric of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, Douglas Capone and Howard Taylor of USC College, and Jean Shih of the USC School of Pharmacy, will be among 471 scientists honored at the Fellows Forum of the 2008 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston, Mass., in February.

Capone, professor of biological sciences and holder of the William and Julie Wrigley Chair in Environmental Studies, was chosen for “contributions to the field of marine biogeochemistry, particularly nitrogen fixation and other aspects of the nitrogen cycle.”

The term “fixation” refers to the ability of some microorganisms to capture and metabolize gases from the atmosphere and use them to make new organic matter. In the case of nitrogen, the ocean’s capacity for nitrogen fixation directly influences its ability to absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

In a 2005 paper, Capone capped a 10-year study by showing that nitrogen fixation by certain marine bacteria drives a large amount of photosynthesis in the oceans. Since photosynthesis uses carbon dioxide, the finding implied that if nitrogen fixation could be increased, the oceans might be able to absorb a greater quantity of the greenhouse gas.

Mataric, professor of computer science and neuroscience, was honored “for research in robotics, service to K-12 education, and as president of the Academic Senate and senior associate dean for research (in the USC Viterbi School).” Her Interaction Lab conducts research aimed at giving robots the ability to help people through individual interaction, such as in caregiving, and as part of human-robot teams for applications such as habitat monitoring or emergency response.

Mataric is also committed to educational outreach and university service. With USC Neighborhood Outreach program support and collaborations with K-12 teachers, she and her students are developing hands-on robotics curricula for students at all levels. She is serving as the immediate past president of the USC Academic Senate and as a member of the University Strategic Planning Committee.

Nikias, who joined USC’s faculty in 1991 and served as dean of the USC Viterbi School from 2001 until 2005, when he became provost, was recognized “for distinguished contributions to the field of signal processing and interactive media techniques, and for leadership in engineering education.”

He is internationally recognized for his research on digital communications and signal processing, digital media systems and biomedicine.

His innovations and patents in signal processing have been adopted by the U.S. Navy in sonar, radar and mobile communication systems. His innovative interdisciplinary curricula in signal processing systems have been used by the Department of Defense to train more than 2,500 scientists and engineers.

In addition to inventing key methods for reducing signal interference in high-noise environments, he crossed disciplines with several publications and patents in medical research, including methods for the detection and classification of myocardial ischemia.

During his deanship, the school staked out a consistent position as a top-10 engineering school according to traditional rankings, while simultaneously charting a course as a leader in emerging academic areas.

Shih, a University Professor and the Boyd P. and Elsie D. Welin Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, has won international acclaim for her study of how the brain enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO) affects behavior. Her laboratory was the first to clone the human MAO A and B genes and to unravel the structure, functions and regulations of these genes.

MAO has profound effects on behavior and influences neurotransmitters crucial to emotion, such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. For example, Shih’s work has showed that mice lacking both MAO genes display relentless aggression. Her findings have therapeutic applications for depression, anxiety and aggression as well as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Taylor, a retired professor of chemistry and physics at USC College, was honored “for distinguished and pioneering contributions to theoretical chemistry, atomic and molecular physics, (the) stabilization method of scattering dynamics, signal processing and nonlinear dynamics and their applications.”

Taylor’s accomplishments include his development of simple methods for calculating the properties of short-lived molecules that arise during chemical reactions and for deducing the motion of atoms in hot molecules from the molecules’ vibrational signatures. He also developed a noise-reduction algorithm for nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, a widely used tool in chemical laboratories.

The tradition of AAAS fellows began in 1874. Members are considered for the rank of fellow if nominated by the steering group of their respective sections, by three fellows or by the association’s chief executive officer. The AAAS Council votes on the final list.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the prestigious journal Science.

The society was founded in 1848 and includes more than 250 affiliated societies and academies of science serving 10 million individuals.