Thomas Lovejoy is inducted into the National Academy of Sciences

Thomas Lovejoy
Thomas Lovejoy, scientific director of Mason's Institute for a Sustainable Earth, was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences this week. File photo by Strategic Communications.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect Mason's members in all the academies. 


George Mason University’s Thomas Lovejoy a University Professor of Environmental Science and Policy within the College of Science, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences this week, joining an elite group of 120 scholars recognized this year for their contributions to science and research.

“Recognition by the Academy is one of the singular honors of American science, and I am honored,” said Lovejoy, who is often referred to as the “godfather of biodiversity.”

Mason President Gregory Washington called the selection a great achievement for both Lovejoy and the university.

“This is among the greatest achievements a scholar can earn,” Washington said. “It shows that the Academy recognizes what we here at Mason know so well: Thomas Lovejoy’s tireless commitment to the health of the Amazon and by extension the entire planet.”

The National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) work together as the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The National Academy of Sciences is one of the oldest and most prestigious organizations to recognize academic leaders. The private, non-profit institution was established by a congressional charter and signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. 

Lovejoy joins Naomi (Lynn) Gerber, University Professor in the College of Health and Human Services, who was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine in 2008, now the National Academy of Medicine,  as well as National Academy of Engineering members Harry Van Trees, inducted in 2015, Distinguished Research Professor at  C4I and Cyber Center in the former Volgenau School of Engineering, now the College of Engineering and Computing; and founding dean of the School of Engineering Andrew Sage, inducted in 2004, who died in 2014. Vernon Smith, Professor Emeritus of Economics and Law at Mason, was inducted into the Academy in 1995. 

Lovejoy’s career has been dedicated to conserving biotic diversity to sustain vital ecosystem functions and services.

He is among the world’s foremost experts on the Amazon rainforest and a member of Mason’s Institute for Sustainable Earth. He has visited the Amazon more than 50 times over the course of his career. In 1980 he produced the first projection of global extinctions for the Global 2000 Report to the President. Lovejoy also developed the “debt-for-nature” swap program, which reduces a developing country's debts in exchange for a commitment to protect nature.

He was recognized with Mason’s Beck Presidential Medal for Excellence in Research and Scholarship in 2018 for his outstanding research and mentorship of the next generation of environmental science and policy leaders, and was named a  Virginia Outstanding Scientist in 2019.

He was among the roughly 100 scientists who served on a Scientific Advisory Group that helped craft the United Nations’ “Making Peace with Nature” report that envisions a sustainable economy driven by renewable energy and nature-based solutions as a way to combat global warming.

The latest inductees into the National Academy of Sciences included a record number of women and international members, and bring the total membership to 2,461 members, including 511 non-voting international members.

Fernando R. Miralles-Wilhelm, the dean of the College of Science, called Lovejoy’s inclusion “a remarkable achievement.”

This is a significant recognition, way overdue in my opinion,” Mirrales-Wilhelm said, “and likely for anyone that has followed his career and accomplishments.”