University of Texas at Austin Engineer Elected to American Academy of Arts & Sciences

April 22, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — Adam Heller, an acclaimed chemical engineering research professor and professor emeritus at The University of Texas at Austin, has been elected a fellow into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (AAAS), along with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela, actor James Earl Jones, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and singer/humanitarian Bono.

"Dr. Heller is an outstanding scientist who translates his discoveries into technology that helps people," said Gregory L. Fenves, dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering. "His election as an AAAS fellow is richly deserved."

As a child, Heller was detained in a concentration camp, but survived the Holocaust and earned degrees from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He immigrated to the United States in 1962. After postdoctoral work at the University of California, Berkeley and Bell Laboratories, he joined GTE Laboratories in 1964, where he developed the first inorganic liquid lasers and non-rechargeable lithium batteries. On his return to Bell Laboratories in 1975, he built efficient electrochemical solar cells and managed research on high-density chip interconnection technology.

In 1988 he joined The University of Texas at Austin as the Ernest Cockrell Sr. Chair in Engineering, designing photocatalysts applied in self-cleaning windows. At the university he also addressed his career's most important challenge: integrating electronics with biology to improve the lives of people with illnesses. He and members of his team were issued the core patents on electrical wiring of enzymes. These patents formed the basis of the continuous glucose monitor for diabetes management known as FreeStyle Navigator of TheraSense, a company founded by Heller's son, Ephraim.

With Ephraim, Ben Feldman, and others of TheraSense, Heller also developed a technology of coulometrically testing glucose levels using blood samples so small that they could be painlessly obtained. People suffering from diabetes are required to measure their glucose levels several times daily. The technology, the core of TheraSense's Freestyle, was quickly adopted for more than a billion painless glucose assays each year. In 2004 Abbott Laboratories acquired TheraSense, including FreeStyle and the continuous glucose-monitoring FreeStyle Navigator technologies and patents.

"I was fortunate to work with exceptional colleagues through my years in engineering and science," Heller said. "We recognized that as engineers we contribute by bringing working, life-improving products to people, and that as scientists we are here to uncover new truths. On occasion, we were able to engineer products based on the truths we uncovered."

Heller's lifetime contributions to science are described in 240 publications and include 102 U.S. patents, with 35 remaining in use.

In 2008, Heller received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation for his contributions to electrochemistry and bioelectrochemistry that led to the development of products that have improved the quality of life of millions.

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences announced the election of 210 new fellows and 19 foreign honorary members to join one of the nation's most prestigious honorary societies and centers for independent policy research in the areas of the sciences, humanities and arts, business, public affairs and the nonprofit sector.

The scholars, scientists, jurists, writers, artists, civic, corporate and philanthropic leaders come from 28 states and 11 countries and range in age from 33 to 83. They represent universities, museums, national laboratories, private research institutes, businesses and foundations. This year's group also includes Nobel laureates and recipients of the Pulitzer and Pritzker prizes, MacArthur Fellowships, the National Medal of Arts, and Academy, Grammy and Tony awards.

The Academy, established in 1780 by founders of the nation, undertakes studies of complex and emerging problems. Projects focus on science, technology and global security; social policy and American institutions; the humanities and culture; and education. The Academy's membership of scholars and practitioners from many disciplines and professions gives it a unique capacity to conduct a wide range of interdisciplinary, long-term policy research.

"These remarkable men and women have made singular contributions to their fields, and to the world," said Academy President Emilio Bizzi. "By electing them as members, the Academy honors them and their work, and they, in turn, honor us."

The new class will be inducted at an Oct. 10 ceremony at the Academy's headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.

Since its founding by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock and other scholar-patriots, the Academy has elected as members the finest minds and most influential leaders from each generation, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 19th, and Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the 20th century. The membership includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.

A list of newly elected Fellows and Honorary Foreign Members (PDF) with their affiliations is online. (Download Adobe Reader.)  Other university members elected in previous years are also online.

A high-resolution photo of Heller is online.

For more information, contact: Daniel Vargas; Adam Heller, Cockrell School of Engineering, 512-471-8874.

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