Three UC San Diego faculty—Professors Darwin Berg, Marta Kutas, and Ivan Schuller—were recently inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in late April.
The honorary society was founded by John Adams, John Hancock, and James Bowdoin to recognize outstanding devotion to the advancement of societal, scientific, and intellectual issues. On April 28, the three professors were elected among a class that includes former U.S. President Barack Obama, Tom Hanks, and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.
Berg is currently a professor emeritus in UCSD’s Division of Biological Sciences. He has contributed to research on synapse formation and nicotinic signaling in the brain. Born and raised in Northern Idaho, Berg grew up on a ranch and went to Deep Springs College in California, where he developed a love for physics and chemistry.
When asked about his decision to go into a post-graduate career in neurobiology, Berg expressed his desire to apply the rules of the universe to further understand human identity.
“Like the universe, the human brain is a systematic circuitry,” Berg explained, “Our individual brains are wired differently from one another because we all go through different life experiences. This causes us to respond to the external environments in a way that defines who we are.”
Berg also highlighted the social objective of his research, saying that by using science to explain why an individual thinks or acts a certain way, he hopes to help people become more compassionate and empathetic to one another.
Kutas, chairwoman of UCSD’s Cognitive Science Department, is well-known for analyzing language comprehension using electrical measurements of brain activity. Kutas grew up in Hungary, but fled the country during the Hungarian Revolution. She spent her time in two refugee camps in Austria before arriving in the United States.
Coming from an immigrant background, Kutas is driven to confront hardships and grow beyond her circumstances. She finds the study of human reasoning rewarding because it helps her widen her viewpoint on the world.
“As a non-native English speaker, I have noticed biases in my interactions with people in the U.S. They hear my accent and want to know where I’m really from,” Kutas remarked. “However, as a scientist, I understand that such behavior occurs due to the human brain’s response to patterns of their surroundings.”
Schuller, a professor in UCSD’s Division of Physical Sciences, dedicates his career to superconductivity and magnetism. He spent his early life in Israel, went to high school and college in Chile, and pursued his doctorate degree in Physics at Northwestern University. Apart from his accomplishments in the hard sciences, Schuller also has artistic interests, such as movie-making and playwriting.
Schuller strongly values patience and persistence in learning. His favorite part about being a physicist is the excitement that comes with daily inquiries and explorations.
“When you’re a scientist, you have to wake up every day and ask yourself what new thing you would like to create. There is no rigid syllabus that tells you what to do,” Schuller said. “I find the state of being out of place and going through the pain of learning things no one knows about quite stimulating.”
Sharing the same intellectual curiosity for science, Berg agreed that the possibility of discovering new knowledge sustained his interest in neurobiology.
“Sometimes, a fact-driven hypothesis does not seem to align with what you know,” Berg said. “Doing science has constantly pushed me to challenge the truth and find out the missing pieces, which I think is an essential quality for every scholar to have.”
For Kutas, self-trust and leadership push her to move forward in a highly competitive industry. Now serving as the head of the Cognitive Science Department at UCSD, she takes pride in having paved her own career path in neuropsychology.
“When I got started, brain waves were not well-recognized as real science,” Kutas stated. “Many experts in the field doubted my decision, but I never gave up. I believe that as long as I have the support from my mentor and colleagues, what seems enigmatic today should have an answer tomorrow.”
Thi Nguyen is a Contributing Writer for The Triton.