Ottar Bjørnstad elected to Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters

March 17, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Ottar N. Bjørnstad, distinguished professor of entomology and biology and J. Lloyd & Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair of Epidemiology at Penn State, has been elected to the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters. Bjørnstad was recommended as a result of his significant contributions to the fields of population ecology and quantitative epidemiology.

“Dr. Bjørnstad’s high status became particularly visible when the COVID-19 situation arose,” said Atle Mysterud, an academy member and professor of terrestrial ecology at the University of Oslo. “To be invited to do the models of the initial outbreak in Wuhan, which he published in Science on May 8, says a lot about his standing in the scientific community. Also, his two Nature Methods papers in 2020 that outlined state-of-the-art modeling of infectious disease dynamics have not only been valuable to the scientific community, but also have made a difference to society. Dr. Bjørnstad’s exceptional standing internationally put Norway on the map. It is a great honor to have him on board.”

Founded in 1857, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters is a non-governmental, nationwide body that supports the advancement of science and scholarship in Norway. Across all sciences membership is limited to 140 Norwegian scientists under 70 years of age. A new member can only be elected upon the passing or retirement (at age 70) of a previous member.

Bjørnstad conducts research at the intersection of ecology, mathematical biology and statistics to improve the understanding of disease outbreaks. His work focuses on the spatial and temporal spread of acute diseases such as measles, rubella, whooping cough, influenza, and now COVID-19, as well as on outbreak dynamics of agricultural and forest insect pests.

He has collaborated with the epidemiological unit of Doctors Without Borders on optimizing vaccination campaigns in sub-Saharan Africa. He also contributed to the Vaccine Modeling Initiative (VMI) of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with his expertise in using mathematical models to improve global disease-elimination programs. In addition, he was a Senior Research Fellow at the Fogarty International Center as part of the joint National Institutes of Health and Department of Homeland Security program on Research and Policy on Infectious Disease Dynamics (RaPIDD). He has also worked closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service on mitigating insect outbreaks and pest invasions.

In 2019, Bjørnstad was named a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America. He was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2013. In 2009, he was awarded the Alex and Jessie C. Black Award for Excellence in Research from the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State. In 2008 and 2009, he received the Ecological Research Award from the Ecological Society of Japan. In 2008, he was awarded the ENRI Early Career Award from the Environmental and Natural Resources Institute of Penn State. In 2007, Penn State awarded Bjørnstad a Faculty Scholar Medal for Outstanding Achievement in the life and health sciences for his research in modeling the spatial and temporal dynamics of disease proliferation and animal populations.

Bjørnstad is an associate editor of Royal Society Open Science and has served as an ad hoc editor of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He also has served on the editorial boards of Ecology, Ecological Monographs, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B and Journal of Animal Ecology, and Population Ecology.

He earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Oslo in Norway. He was a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Oslo, University of Cambridge and University of California - Santa Barbara. From 2004 to 2009 he was co-director of the Penn State Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics. He held a visiting professorship at the University of Oslo from 2008 to 2009, and in 2011 Bjørnstad was elected as a visiting scholar to Oxford University’s Wolfson College. In 2017, he was a visiting professor at the Marshall Center for Infectious Disease at the University of Western Australia.

Last Updated March 17, 2021