Mina Bissell

Mina Bissell

Mina Bissell, Distinguished Scientist with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and award-winning cell and cancer biologist, and Alexis Bell, chemical engineer with joint appointments at Berkeley Lab and the University of California (UC) Berkeley, and a leading authority on catalysis, have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), one of the nation’s highest honors for a scientist. Bissell and Bell are among the 72 new members and 18 foreign associates to be invited this year into the prestigious scientific organization that was established in 1863 under President Lincoln. Their election to the academy brings the total number of Berkeley Lab NAS members to 63.

Bissell is universally recognized as the scientist who uncovered the critical role in cancer development played by a breast cell’s microenvironment. In 1982 she proposed that the extracellular matrix (ECM), a network of fibrous and globular proteins immediately surrounding a breast cell, is crucial to the breast cell’s normal functioning, and that ECM loss or damage can lead to malignancy. Conventional scientific wisdom at that time held the ECM to be nothing more than an inert scaffold upon which cells grew and developed. In the succeeding decades, Bissell’s experiments have established a clear picture as to how the ECM and the rest of a cell’s microenvironment regulate breast cell functions.

Bissell is a native of Iran, where she graduated as that nation’s top high school student and won a scholarship to study abroad. She chose to attend Bryn Mawr, where she studied chemistry before transferring to Radcliffe. While a senior at Radcliffe she won the medal of the American Institute of Chemists. She earned her Ph.D. in microbiology and molecular genetics from Harvard University, and came to the University of California’s Berkeley campus to do post-doctoral research in cell biology and virology. She joined the Berkeley Lab staff in 1972 and has served in numerous positions, including director of its Life Sciences Division, which she help found in 1992.

Alexis Bell

Alexis Bell

Bell is a principal investigator with Berkeley Lab’s Chemical Sciences Division, UC Berkeley’s Theodore Vermeulen Professor of Chemical Engineering, and holder of the Dow Chair in Sustainable Chemistry. Understanding the fundamental relationships between the structure and composition of catalysts and their performance has been the thrust of his more than 40 years of research, in which he has authored or co-authored well over 500 technical publications. In recent years he has performed internationally recognized research aimed at devising new catalysts to protect the environment. Currently, he is leading an investigation into a class of solvents called ionic liquids that could help transform biomass into sustainable and carbon-neutral transportation fuels.

Bell received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received his Sc.D. degree in Chemical Engineering in 1967. That same year he joined UC Berkeley’s Department of Chemical Engineering, and would later serve five years as Dean of the College of Chemistry there, starting in 1994. He has been affiliated with Berkeley Lab since 1975.

NAS is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for the general welfare. It was established by a congressional act that calls on the Academy to act as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology. The 2010 election brings the total number of active members to 2,097. Foreign associates are non-voting members of the Academy, with citizenship outside the United States. The 2010 election brings the total number of foreign associates to 409.

Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California. Visit our Website at www.lbl.gov

Additional Information

For more information about the research of Mina Bissell, visit her Website at


For more on the research of Alexis Bell, visit his Website at http://www.cchem.berkeley.edu/atbgrp/

For more information on the National Academy of Sciences, visit the Website at http://www.nasonline.org/