BOZEMAN - Three Montana State University faculty members who have made outstanding contributions in earth sciences, ecology and math were recently named Fellows of their professional organizations.
Cathy Whitlock, professor of earth sciences and MSU director of the Institute on Ecosystems, was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). This leading scientific organization advances science around the world and across all disciplines.
Duncan Patten and Marcy Barge are in the first group of Fellows ever chosen by their societies. Patten, director of the Montana Water Center and research professor in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, was named a Fellow of the 97-year-old Ecological Society of America (ESA). Barge, a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, was named a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society (AMS), which will celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2013.
All three Fellows will be honored during 2013 ceremonies.
"The new AMS Fellow Program recognizes some of the most accomplished mathematicians-AMS members who have contributed to our understanding of deep and important mathematical questions, to applications throughout the scientific world, and to educational excellence," said AMS President Eric M. Friedlander.
The AMS is the world's largest organization dedicated to mathematical research, scholarship and education. Of its 30,000 members, 1,119 were named Fellows this year.
"It increases my sense of connection to the broader community of mathematicians," Barge said of his selection.
An MSU faculty member since 1985, Barge explained how he entered the field of mathematics.
"I sort of fell into it because it was the easiest thing for me," he said. "My first job was as an applied mathematician, and I found no joy in it. More or less by accident, I got interested in a problem in topological dynamics, and it was then that my intellectual life really started.
"A year later, I came to MSU to work in this area with my two long-term colleagues Russ Walker and Richard Swanson," Barge continued. "The sort of research that I do in pure mathematics is only supported in research universities."
Patten was one of 121 Fellows chosen by the 10,000-member ESA, the world's largest professional organization for ecologists and environment scientists.
"One must remember that they are a member of a group, whether it be their scientific society, their department, or some other organization," Patten said. "When one member is recognized for their contributions, in a sense, all members are recognized because one does not gain status alone, but with the support of others."
Patten taught and conducted research at Arizona State University for 30 years before moving to Montana in 1995. Two years later, Patten became an adjunct faculty member at MSU. He became a research professor in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences in 2002. Last year, he became director of the Montana Water Center based at MSU.
"I really appreciate the opportunities that MSU has given me since we moved to Bozeman, in teaching, research and administration," said Patten, now 78. "All of these aspects of my life have been realized again in this fantastic setting and university. I see no reason to retire when I can continue to pursue what I enjoy and MSU has been a major player in my pursuit of my continued career."
He chose a career in ecology because of an empathetic adviser he had while working on his master's degree at the University of Massachusetts, Patten said.
"From that point on, I realized that doing research outdoors and on issues that really concerned me were important," Patten said. "My early research in the desert was on desert ecological issues (ie. cactus and desert annuals), but then I got interested in riparian and riverine issues in an arid region."
Now considered one of the country's leading experts on aridland riparian ecosystems, Patten has been appointed to many National Research Council committees, as well as National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences boards and commissions. He became an AAAS Fellow in 1979. For the past four years, he has served on the national science advisory board for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Whitlock was one of 701 AAAS Fellows selected this year and one of only 19 who specialize in geology and geography.
"It is a great honor to be elected as a Fellow of this leading scientific organization, which advances science around the world and all disciplines," Whitlock said.
The AAAS is the world's largest general scientific society, with more than 125,000 individual and institutional members. Among other things, it publishes the well-known scientific journal, Science, which has a weekly circulation of about 139,000.
Whitlock, who joined MSU's Department of Earth Sciences in 2004, said her love of paleoecology and earth sciences came from two influential professors in her career. One was Estella Leopold at the University of Washington. The other was the late Bill Watts of Trinity College Dublin.
"They showed me that science at the interdisciplinary edge holds some of the most exciting challenges for understanding the Earth system," Whitlock said.
Explaining why she pursued an academic career, Whitlock said, "The university has given me the freedom to pursue questions of my choice and to go to the far ends of the planet to them. It also has provided the opportunity to pass the thrill of scientific discovery onto students, and this combination of learning and teaching is one of the most rewarding experiences imaginable."
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or email@example.com