Four Florida State professors join prestigious ranks of AAAS fellows

Top left: David Gilbert, Jack Saltiel; from
bottom left: Stephan von Molnár and
Huan-Xiang Zhou

The Florida State University has long been recognized internationally for the high quality of scientific research conducted on its campus in numerous disciplines. That preeminence has been affirmed as four Florida State professors were recently elevated to the rank of fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Election as a fellow of the AAAS is an honor bestowed upon members by their peers. Fellows are recognized for meritorious efforts to advance science or its applications.

The Florida State faculty members selected as AAAS fellows for 2008, and the language provided on their AAAS citations, are as follows:

  • David M. Gilbert, J. Herbert Taylor Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biology, Department of Biological Science, "for distinguished contributions to the DNA replication field, particularly for elucidating the mechanisms that regulate the spatial and temporal patterns of replication initiation."
  • Jack Saltiel, Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, "for outstanding contributions to the elucidation of the mechanisms of selected photoisomerizations useful as models for the understanding of complex photobiological systems."
  • Stephan von Molnár, Professor, Department of Physics, "for seminal research on magnetic polarons, the metal-insulator transition, dilute magnetic semiconductors and magnetic nanoparticles."
  • Huan-Xiang Zhou, Professor, Department of Physics, "for distinguished contributions to the field of computational and theoretical chemistry, particularly the theoretical modeling of diffusion-controlled reactions and other processes in biomolecular systems.

"It is always nice to have our talented Florida State researchers recognized by their peers as being among the best in their fields," said Larry Abele, the university’s provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs. "This is just one more indicator of our strength in the area of scientific research."

Of the four researchers, Saltiel has served on the Florida State faculty the longest, having joined the chemistry department as an assistant professor in 1965. He specializes in a branch of science known as photochemistry, in which the interactions between molecules and light are analyzed. He is recognized as the world’s foremost expert on cis-trans photoisomerization, the key molecular process in vision and in many other light-triggered biological responses.

A recent focus of Saltiel’s research has been the light-induced reactions that lead to the formation of vitamin D in the skin and in industrial reactions. Vitamin D plays a significant role in calcium transport and neuromuscular function, and one of the outcomes of vitamin D deficiency is rickets, a softening of the bones in children that can lead to fractures and deformity. Vitamin D also plays a role in the development and progression of certain cancers, autoimmune disorders and infectious diseases.

"This recognition could not have come about without the efforts of the many students and postdoctoral fellows who, through their accomplishments in my laboratory, were and are co-travelers on a very fulfilling research journey," Saltiel said. "As it puts me in a retrospective mood, it brings to mind the role of my teachers, especially my mentor, George Hammond, who trusted me to take his place, when still a graduate student, and join a distinguished group of speakers for my first major research presentation at the 1963 AAAS meeting in Cleveland."

Von Molnár came to Florida State in 1994 to accept positions as a professor of physics and as director of the university’s Center for Materials Research and Technology (MARTECH). Although he recently stepped down as MARTECH director, he continues to conduct research at the multidisciplinary center, which works to enhance the ability to produce and investigate new materials with novel structural, chemical, magnetic and/or optical properties.

"The physics of magnetism at the nanoscale requires novel scientific thinking and has broad potential for applications in information and biotechnology," von Molnár said of his research. "Florida State, MARTECH and the new Integrative NanoScience Institute, created as part of the university’s Pathways of Excellence program, are pursuing research in both areas, focusing on spin electronics and magnetic bio-sensing."

His AAAS recognition "belongs in large part to MARTECH for providing the environment to perform significant scientific research," von Molnár said.

Zhou, a member of the Florida State faculty since 2002, describes his research as geared toward developing a greater understanding of the properties of protein molecules.

"Such an understanding forms the foundation for elucidating the mechanisms of human diseases and for drug discovery," he said. "The recognition of my work through the election as an AAAS fellow is a great honor."

Gilbert is the last of the four to come to Florida State, having arrived in 2006. The molecular biologist recently led a group of researchers in a landmark study that received media attention all over the world. In the study, his team discovered that as embryonic stem cells turn into different cell types, there are dramatic corresponding changes to the order in which DNA is replicated and reorganized. The discovery takes scientists a major step closer to the central goal of stem cell therapy, which is to successfully convert adult tissue back to an embryo-like state so that it can be used to regenerate or replace damaged tissue. Such therapies hold out hope of treatments or cures for cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries and a host of other devastating disorders.

"We in the sciences are typically a very competitive bunch," said Gilbert, "so being recognized by one’s peers in this manner is a great honor. I am delighted to have been selected as a AAAS fellow, and I offer my profuse thanks to all of my talented collaborators through the years who have helped make this possible."

The AAAS ( is the world’s largest general scientific society. It has nearly 120,000 individual and institutional members and 262 affiliates, serving 10 million scientists in fields ranging from plant biology to dentistry. The association also publishes Science, which, with an estimated total readership of 1 million, has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world.

According to the association, "this year, 486 members have been awarded this honor by AAAS because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications." With the addition of Gilbert, Saltiel, von Molnár and Zhou, FSU now has 38 current and emeritus faculty members who are AAAS fellows. See the entire list at