By Mark Dwortzan
In recognition of his outstanding contributions to synthetic biology and engineered gene networks, Professor James J. Collins (BME) has been elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering, one of the most prestigious honors accorded to engineers.
“I was thrilled and honored to receive the news that I had been elected to the NAE,” said Collins, who joins more than 2,000 peer-elected members and foreign associates—senior academic, government and industry professionals who are among the world’s most accomplished engineers. Current Boston University members include BU President and chemical engineer Robert A. Brown and Research Professor Farouk El-Baz, who directs the BU Center for Remote Sensing.
“This is a historic moment for the College of Engineering,” said Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen. “When our PhD programs—and national research aspirations—began barely 20 years ago, we were fortunate to recruit a promising junior faculty member named Jim Collins. His work has played an important part in advancing us into the front rank of engineering schools in a very short period of time, so it is particularly gratifying that he is the first member of our primary faculty to be elected to this highly exclusive company of scholars. I join the faculty in extending hearty congratulations to Jim on this richly deserved honor.”
Election to membership in the NAE is considered one of the highest professional honors that can be bestowed on an engineer. The organization does not accept applications for membership; it elects new members from nominations submitted by existing NAE members. Recognized for their outstanding contributions to engineering research, practice, education and literature, and leading innovations in new and existing engineering fields, members provide leadership and expertise to projects, symposia and publications aimed at improving the quality of life through engineering and technology.
A pioneer in both synthetic and systems biology, Collins is developing innovative ways to design and reprogram gene networks within bacteria and other organisms to attack tumors, direct stem cell development and perform other desired tasks that could bring about cheaper drugs, more effective treatments of antibiotic-resistant infections, and clean energy solutions. Also a trailblazer in efforts to improve function of physiological and biological systems, he has spearheaded several new medical devices such as vibrating insoles to improve balance in elderly people and a device to treat stroke-induced brain failure.
In addition to serving BU as William F. Warren Distinguished Professor, University Professor, and co-director of the Center for BioDynamics, Collins is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and founding core faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. His many honors include a MacArthur “Genius Award,” a National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Award, the Lagrange-CRT Foundation Prize, the Metcalf Cup and Prize (BU’s highest teaching honor), and being named on the Scientific American list of top 50 outstanding leaders in science and technology. Collins serves on the scientific advisory board of several biotechnology companies.
Collins joined the BU faculty in 1990 after earning a bachelor of arts degree in physics from the College of the Holy Cross and a Ph.D. in medical engineering from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.