Irv Epstein named AAAS Fellow

The chemistry professor is honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for his work on oscillating chemical reactions, which are critical to understanding the workings of the human body.

Henry F. Fischbach Professor of Chemistry Irv Epstein, who has been at Brandeis since 1971, has been selected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Epstein was among 391 members of the Washington, D.C.-based AAAS to receive the distinction of Fellow this year. The organization is the world’s largest general scientific society.

Epstein said he was honored to receive the award from the AAAS. "I'm delighted and grateful for the recognition," he said. "It's always nice to be appreciated by fellow scientists."

Epstein's work focuses on oscillating chemical reactions in which the concentrations of chemicals increase and decrease over time. They are unusual in nature, but are the basis for the changes in levels of chemicals in our bodies that occur in a 24-hour cycle. They are also implicated in the cellular transformations that go on during the early stages of embryo development.

In a statement, the AAAS said it was recognizing Epstein for his "distinguished contributions to the field of nonlinear chemical dynamics, particularly for developing systematic approaches to designing chemical oscillators, Turing patterns and other spatiotemporal phenomena."

Epstein served as provost of the university between 1994 and 2001 and later as interim provost from 2015 to 2016. He was also dean of arts and sciences from 1992 to 1994.

He said Brandeis' small size and the collegiality of the world-renown scientists that work here has helped him pursue an interdisciplinary approach to research. Over the years, he's worked with biologists, physicists and computer scientists.

"At many large universities, research tends to be siloed," he said. "At Brandeis, we tend to interact with people not only outside our research group, but outside our departments."

The new AAAS Fellows will be officially recognized on February 18, 2017, at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts.

We asked several of Epstein's colleagues to assess the impact of his research.

Seth Fraden, professor of physics
"Irv Epstein has had a long and deep fascination with oscillating chemical reactions. His first paper in this field, co-authored with a Brandeis undergraduate, was 40 years ago, and he rapidly became a world leader in the field. By delving deeply into the study of the paradigmatic Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction using a combination of theory and experiment, he formulated a general approach to designing chemical clocks, which led to the discovery of a large number of new oscillating reactions. His current research interests are in nonlinear chemical dynamics, pattern formation, oscillating reactions, chaos, and the behavior of complex networks." 

Milos Dolnik, associate professor of chemistry
Irv Epstein has played a pivotal role in the field of nonlinear chemical dynamics and his work has had a profound influence on this field. His scientific and academic work has attracted many young people to chemistry and sparked their interest in research work.

Irv has made many important contributions to the field of nonlinear chemical dynamics. Among the most significant was the systematic design of oscillating chemical reactions. He has published more than 400 papers and co-authored a book, "Introduction to Nonlinear Chemical Dynamics," which serves as a textbook for almost everyone working in this field. Over the period of 45 years he has mentored a large group of postdocs, undergraduate and graduate students. Irv has always been a very modest person, very supportive of others and well liked by his colleagues and students.  

Bing Xu, professor of chemistry
"Irv is the world leader in the study of complexity, especially the reaction-diffusion (RD) systems or nonlinear chemical dynamics. His works on the generation of the 2D and 3D Turing pattern using Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction droplets as the chemical system that truly captures the essence of life will have a far-reaching impact on many fields for years to come. Besides providing insights into how life evolves from chemical reactions, Irv’s works also offer guiding principles for applied sciences such as biomimetics materials, self-organization and developing processes for biomedicine."

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