The Rensselaer Alumni Association (RAA) has announced the selection of five new members for induction into the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame. They include an internationally acclaimed architect, a molecular geneticist, a microbiologist, the inventor of the digital camera, and Rensselaer’s 11th president.
“This year we are proud to celebrate the accomplishments of so many successful and contemporary alumni and alumnae,” said Jeff Schanz, assistant vice president for alumni relations and executive director of the RAA. “They bring an added diversity to an already impressive list of Alumni Hall of Fame members, and include our first inductee from the School of Architecture, several who are applying science and engineering to life’s common purposes, and an iconic past president.”
The five new members will be inducted into the Alumni Hall of Fame at a ceremony on campus Sept. 23. Etched glass windows commemorating their achievements will be added to those of the previous 63 honorees that line the Great Hall of the Darrin Communications Center.
Livingston W. Houston ’13
As the 11th president of Rensselaer, Livingston Houston guided the Institute through extraordinary growth and change following World War II. He created the modern administrative structure, grouping academics into schools led by deans, and establishing a graduate school and research division. He pioneered new degree programs in geology, mathematics, and mechanics, and introduced programs in language and literature, philosophy, psychology, and economics. Under Houston the cooperative education program was created and a branch campus in Hartford, Conn., was established. Houston’s imaginative and lucrative method of investing endowment funds was so successful that his advice was sought by many college presidents. Houston advocated a greater emphasis on non-technical subjects and extracurricular activities, including college sports and student publications; he encouraged the formation and development of outstanding debating, dramatic, and musical organizations. To further expand college life, Houston brought to campus the Field House that now bears his name as an outlet for cultural and athletic activities and an arena for broader community interaction.
Peter Q. Bohlin ’58
Peter Bohlin is an internationally acclaimed architect and founder of the firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, whose body of work ranges from private houses to urban libraries, commercial buildings, and civic centers. His first design, Forest House, came to national attention in 1975 on the cover of The New York Times Magazine. Bohlin has been noted for creating timeless architecture that celebrates a sense of place, context, and ecological sensitivity. He is equally adept with natural stone and timber on rural sites as he is with steel and glass in urban places. Notable projects include the Washington state residence of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and retail stores for Apple, including the iconic glass cube at 5th Avenue in New York City. He is the 2010 recipient of the Gold Medal awarded by the American Institute of Architects, which recognizes a significant body of work of lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture, and acknowledges his place among the world’s great architects.
Steven J. Sasson ’72
A lifelong research engineer at Eastman Kodak Company, Steven Sasson changed the future of photography when he invented the world’s first digital camera. Sasson’s groundbreaking invention revolutionized the way images are captured, stored, and shared, creating new opportunities for commerce and communication, and ultimately transforming an industry.
In 1975 Sasson developed the first prototype for a digital camera; it was eight pounds and about the size of a toaster. He received a patent for it in 1978, and continued to work in the emerging field, finding ways to store, transmit, and manipulate digital images. Today, a majority of Americans own digital cameras, many as close as their mobile phones. In conferring its Innovation Award on Sasson in 2009, The Economist called the digital camera a “seismic disruption” that rendered the existing technology virtually obsolete. The entire digital imaging industry traces directly back to Sasson’s original innovation. Sasson was awarded the 2009 National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
Claire M. Fraser-Liggett ’77
Claire Fraser-Liggett helped launch the field of microbial genomics and revolutionized the way microbiology has been studied. In a landmark publication in 1995, she reported on the first complete genome sequence of a free-living organism, H. influenzae. Since then she has become one of the world’s most highly cited microbiologists. She has overseen the genome sequencing of important human pathogens, including bacterial infections that cause cholera and anthrax, and parasitic infections responsible for malaria and other devastating diseases in the developing world. Her pioneering work in the sequencing and analysis of human, animal, plant, and microbial genomes has led to a better understanding of the role that genes play in evolution, physiology, and disease. A former president of The Institute for Genomic Research, in 2007 she launched the Institute for Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Fraser-Liggett has led the way in applying genomic and bioinformatic tools to address challenges in disease research, bioterrorism, and environmental issues.
Jeffrey M. Friedman ’77
Jeffrey Friedman is a distinguished biomedical scientist who has dedicated his career to unraveling the molecular mechanisms that regulate body weight. A professor and laboratory head at Rockefeller University, he has held a concurrent position as an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1986. In 1994, Friedman discovered leptin, a hormone secreted by fat cells that regulates food intake and energy expenditure and has powerful effects on reproduction, metabolism, other endocrine systems, and immune function. His groundbreaking research has helped demonstrate that obesity can be a result of metabolic and hormonal disruptions rather than a lack of willpower, and has opened obesity research to molecular exploration. In addition to providing a new target for treating obesity, the discovery of leptin has helped scientists develop treatments for other metabolic conditions, including certain forms of diabetes. A member of the National Academy of Sciences and its Institute of Medicine, Friedman was awarded the prestigious Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 2010.
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