One of the world’s most prestigious academic societies has elected three Cambridge academics to its membership in its latest round of appointments.

Simon Blackburn, the University’s Professor of Philosophy and Fellow of Trinity College, Fiona M Watt, Herchel Smith Professor of Molecular Genetics at Cambridge and Fellow of St John's College and Daan Frenkel, 1968 Professor of Chemistry and Fellow of Trinity College, have been made Foreign Honorary Members of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Professor Blackburn is well known for his efforts to popularise philosophy, but professionally is best known for his development of a ‘quasi-realist’ approach to meta-ethics, the area of philosophy which seeks to understand the nature of ethical attitudes.

He has argued that, although our moral claims are projectivist, that is, involves projecting qualities onto an object which it does not necessarily possess, there is nonetheless a discipline in our assertions of them, since two situations cannot require different ethical responses without a difference in the situation itself. The work ramifies into other areas, and has influenced the way many philosophers think about truth itself.

Professor Watt heads the epidermal stem cell biology research group at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research, where she is deputy director. She is also deputy director of the CRUK Cambridge Research Institute. Her work has furthered our understanding of the properties of stem cells in the skin, with consequences for the analysis of skin diseases from cancer to psoriasis.

The focus of Professor Frenkel’s research group is on the possibilities that bio-molecular recognition and motor action present for the creation of complex, nano-structured materials. Over the past few years he has worked on understanding, through the simulation of soft matter, how relatively simple building blocks, such as rods, spheres and coils, can give rise to complex, collective behaviour, the most extreme examples of which are found in living beings.

They are amongst a host of prominent academics, artists and business leaders in the Academy’s 2008 class, which includes recipients of awards as diverse as the Nobel Prize and the Grammy.

Newly elected members range from Linda Buck, 2004 Nobel Laureate for her molecular explanation of the sense of smell, to blues guitarist B.B. King. Among the Foreign Honorary Members are novelist Orhan Pamuk, director, producer and screenwriter Pedro Almodóvar and climate change expert John H Lawton.

The new class will be inducted at a ceremony on October 11, at the Academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences was founded in 1780 by scholars including John Adams and John Hancock. It has elected some finest and most influential minds of the past two centuries, from Benjamin Franklin to Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill. It counts in its current membership some 200 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.

As an independent policy research centre, the Academy studies a variety of complex and emerging problems, and channels its diverse membership toward a wide range of interdisciplinary, long-term policy research.

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