John Hildebrand Named 'Einstein Scholar' by Chinese Academy of Sciences

The award is given to leaders who are considered to have potential to win the Nobel prize in their fields.
April 8, 2008
John G. Hildebrand
John G. Hildebrand

John G. Hildebrand, the University of Arizona neurobiologist known for his work on the neurobiology and development of insect olfactory systems and their effects on insect behavior, was one of about 10 scientists worldwide to be named an Einstein Professor by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

This distinction – reserved for leaders in their respective fields with the potential to win Nobel and other international science awards, according to the academy, known as CAS – will allow Hildebrand to conduct scientific consultations at two CAS institutes, host Chinese scholars at the UA and deliver a public lecture in Beijing on the current frontiers of science and developing trends.

Hildebrand, a UA Regents' Professor of neurobiology and director of the Arizona Research Laboratories division of neurobiology, pioneered the use of the hawkmoth Manduca sexta, the tobacco hornworm moth, as a model organism for studying the organization of insects' sense of smell.

Adult moths have a wingspan of about 4 inches and relatively large brains, making them much easier to study than smaller insects. By increasing understanding of how insects behave and function, Hildebrand's work can also help combat insects that are vectors of disease or predators on crops.

In 2007, Hildebrand was elected to the National Academy of Sciences – the only person elected from Arizona in 2007.

“This came as a nice surprise. Ever since I was a little kid, I have always been fascinated by China and wanted to go there,” Hildebrand said. “In a way it is a fulfillment of a lifelong aspiration.”

The Einstein Professor honor is not only an award, but also comes with certain obligations, according to Hildebrand.

In October, Hildebrand will spend approximately two weeks in China. First he will lecture at the primary CAS institute sponsoring his visit – the Institute for Zoology in Beijing. He will lecture on the frontiers and directions of the research field that he represents and at that time will receive the Einstein Professor award.

While in Beijing, Hildebrand will work to develop a collaborative agreement between the Institute of Zoology and the UA that will result in “fruitful cooperation,” Hildebrand said. As an Einstein Professor, Hildebrand will commit to hosting scientists from Institute of Zoology and possibly other CAS institutes at the UA in the future.

He also will visit Shanghai to conduct a seminar at another CAS institute.

Hildebrand expects that his new connections to China will have positive impacts on his research program. “The people that we will encounter there at the Chinese Academy labs are absolutely top flight,” Hildebrand said. “One of the most exciting prospects for me and my co-workers here is that we may be able to recruit post-docs to come and work with us, and that could have a really big impact on what we do.”

According to the CAS, the goals of the Einstein Professor program are to enhance the training of strategic science and technology experts and talented senior scientific leaders, to strengthen Chinese scientists' contacts and exchanges with top scientists throughout the world, to introduce frontline scientific concepts and ideas, to help in the development of new disciplinary fields and to raise innovation among Chinese scientific and technological researchers.