UM First: Bio Station Director Joins National Academy of Sciences

UM’s Jim Elser, shown holding a display of a pipe coated with invasive mussels, is one of only two Montanans ever elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. Elser directs the Flathead Lake Biological Station, which works to defend Montana waterways against invasive species.
Elser takes a selfie with FLBS students.
Elser takes a selfie with one of his Flathead Lake Biological Station classes.

FLATHEAD LAKE – After a two-year pandemic delay, researcher Jim Elser finally will attend his official induction ceremony for the National Academy of Sciences during the NAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., on Friday, April 29.

Elser directs the University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station and serves as the station’s Bierman Professor of Ecology. He was elected to NAS in 2019 in recognition of his distinguished and continuing achievements in scientific research.

He is the first person from UM inducted into the prestigious academy, and only the second in the history of Montana.

“We are so pleased that the scientific community has recognized Professor Elser as one of our country’s most important scientists,” UM President Seth Bodnar said. “The UM family proudly celebrates this well-deserved recognition.”

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was first established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievements in science by election to membership, and – with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine – provides science, engineering and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

Elser was elected by current members of the academy in 2019. He has since joined them virtually to advise the nation on matters relating to science, engineering and medicine. His attendance at the induction ceremony will mark the first time he’s had the opportunity to engage other NAS members face-to-face in an official capacity.

“It’s exciting to prepare to attend this event, as it will allow me to meet so many great colleagues,” Elser said. “My election to the NAS will help bring more attention and expertise to Montana, UM and to the Flathead watershed. It brings me into contact with cutting-edge researchers and their work – much of which is highly relevant to the challenges that water resources and ecosystems faces in Montana.”

As a scientist, Elser is best known for his role in developing and testing the theory of ecological stoichiometry, which is the study of the balance of energy and chemical elements such as carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus in ecological systems. As FLBS director, Elser has expanded the biological station’s freshwater monitoring program, increased community outreach and launched a Flathead Lake Aquatic Research and Education (FLARE) K-12 program, which now engages thousands of local students each year.  

His current research is focused on Flathead Lake and other mountain lakes in western Montana.  A new project investigates the possible role of nitrogen and phosphorus in supporting blooms of snow algae in alpine ecosystems. He also works actively to advance the cause of phosphorus sustainability in the food system to protect water quality.

Though by far the most prestigious, this recognition is by no means the first of Elser’s storied career. He also was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is an elected foreign member of the Norwegian Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has received the G.E. Hutchinson Award of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, the world's largest scientific association dedicated to aquatic sciences. He also served as the ASLO president from 2014 to 2016. 

Elser and Montana State University earth scientist Cathy Whitlock are the only two active members of the National Academy of Sciences in the state of Montana.

On April 29, Elser will join roughly 100 other members of the 2019 National Academy of Sciences class for a final induction ceremony. During that event, he will officially sign his name in the NAS register, which features the signatures of NAS members dating back to the mid-19th century. The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. MDT and will be streamed live online through the NAS website. Following the event, assembled members of NAS will convene for an annual meeting that will include various scientific sessions, receptions and election of new NAS members.

For more information, visit the NAS website at


Contact: Jim Elser, UM Flathead Lake Biological Station director, 406-872-4500,; Tom Bansak, UM Flathead Lake Biological Station associate director, 406-872-4503,