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Chemistry professor 1 of only 3 at UH to achieve prestigious AAAS status

HOUSTON, Dec. 22, 2008 B. Montgomery "Monte" Pettitt, the Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Physics, Computer Science, Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Houston, has been awarded the distinction of Fellow from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Of this year's 486 Fellows, Pettitt is among Texas' 16 honorees, six of whom are from Houston institutions. He is one of only three researchers in UH's history to hold this distinction. Part of a tradition dating back to 1874, AAAS members are awarded this appointment by their peers for their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. Along with the other new Fellows for 2008, Pettitt will be recognized Saturday, Feb. 14, during the 2009 AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago.

"Being named an AAAS Fellow is among the top honors that a scientist can receive, and such awards are a factor considered in determining the ranking of a research university," said John Bear, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at UH. "This achievement will no doubt put Monte in a position to be considered for subsequent distinguished awards, such as those bestowed by the Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences."

As part of the section on chemistry, Pettitt was elected as an AAAS Fellow for distinguished contributions to computational and theoretical chemistry, particularly for discoveries concerning the thermodynamics of aqueous solutions and the properties of biopolymers.

In conducting his research, he analyzes the relationships between energy and structures of biomolecules in water, as well as looks into properties found in other molecules produced by living organisms. This helps him to come up with principles for designing new biosensors and new therapeutics.

"My research ranges from modeling the behavior of liquids to elucidating the nature of biomolecules tethered to high-tech chip sensors," Pettitt said. "Using biological molecules tethered to chips creates technology for medical diagnosis, drug discovery and even computing."

Pettitt was nominated by three senior Fellows, all of whom are required to be current AAAS members. Steering groups of the association's 24 sections reviewed nominations of each individual within its respective section, and a final list was forwarded to the AAAS Council that then voted on the final list of recipients.

The council is the policymaking body of AAAS, chaired by its president and consisting of its board of directors, the retiring section chairs, and delegates from each electorate and regional division, as well as two delegates from the National Association of Academies of Science. This year's AAAS Fellows were announced Dec. 19 in the AAAS News & Notes section of Science, the world's leading journal of original scientific research, global news and commentary.

Pettitt earned his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Houston, was a postdoctoral fellow at The University of Texas at Austin and an NIH fellow at Harvard University. He joined the UH faculty in 1985 and is currently the associate dean of research for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. He has served as director for the Institute of Molecular Design since 1994 and as chair of the Keck Center for Computational Biology since 2004.

"This is a significant honor for my university and myself," Pettitt said. "This recognition helps put the Tier One aspirations of UH into focus for the community. I think we have several faculty deserving of this honor. By my estimation, UH is Tier One, we just need to demonstrate it."


Contact: Lisa Merkl
University of Houston

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