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Elson elected to National Academy of Sciences

Biochemist among 120 new members elected nationwide

by Julia Evangelou StraitApril 30, 2021

Washington University

Elliot L. Elson, PhD, an emeritus professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Elson is among 120 new members and 30 international associates elected to the National Academy of Sciences this year. Election to the academy is considered one of the highest honors that can be awarded to a U.S. scientist or engineer. The newest members, announced April 26, bring the total number of active members to 2,461 and the number of international members to 511. International members hold citizenship outside the U.S. and are nonvoting members of the academy.

Elson is widely known for his role in pioneering microscopy methods that have become standard tools in the field of biophysics. These methods, called fluorescence correlation spectroscopy and fluorescence recovery after photobleaching, are used by thousands of researchers around the world to study the complex inner workings of cells and their environments. His early papers on these techniques have been cited in the scientific literature more than 5,000 times, highlighting their impact on the field.

Elson uses these tools — as well as newer microscopy methods he has developed — to study how cells move, change shape and maintain their structure. Such information helps scientists understand the impact of these cellular features on tissues and organs. His advances in microscopy have made it easier to study proteins on the surfaces of cells and how these proteins move, contributing to the understanding of cellular movement and structure.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in biochemical science from Harvard University, Elson went on to earn a doctoral degree in biochemistry from Stanford University in 1966. He continued his training as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, San Diego, before joining the faculty of Cornell University in 1968. He moved to Washington University School of Medicine in 1979, joining the faculty of what was then the Department of Biological Chemistry.

Read more about this year’s new members here:

Washington University School of Medicine’s 1,500 faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is a leader in medical research, teaching and patient care, consistently ranking among the top medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Julia covers medical news in genomics, cancer, cardiology, developmental biology, biochemistry & molecular biophysics, and gut microbiome research. In 2022, she won a gold award for excellence in the Robert G. Fenley Writing Awards competition. Given by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the award recognized her coverage of long COVID-19. Before joining Washington University in 2010, she was a freelance writer covering science and medicine. She has a research background with stints in labs focused on bioceramics, human motor control and tissue-engineered heart valves. She is a past Missouri Health Journalism Fellow and a current member of the National Association of Science Writers. She holds a bachelor's degree in engineering science from Iowa State University and a master's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Minnesota.