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AAAS Issues Seven Awards for Research, Education, and Public Engagement

Announced on the eve of the 178th AAAS Annual Meeting, the 2011 winners are:

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia—The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) thas named the winners of seven prestigious awards in the fields of research, education, and public service, citing the winners’ leadership, their deep commitment to discovery, and their positive impact in fostering public engagement with science. Announced on the eve of the 178th AAAS Annual Meeting, the 2011 winners are:

The Philip Hauge Abelson Award: Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an influential leader in science, education, government, and other fields. Jackson was the first African American woman to graduate with a Ph.D MIT—theoretical particle physics in 1973—and that set a template for her career. She has been chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a director at IBM and other corporations, president of AAAS, and a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

One of Jackson’s most important contributions has been to serve as a forceful advocate for the greater inclusion of women and under-represented minorities in scientific and technical fields. She sees these efforts as essential to U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.

The Abelson Award was inspired by Philip Hauge Abelson, long-time senior advisor to AAAS, editor of the journal Science, and president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

The Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award: Three UCLA scientists—J. David Jentsch, Edythe London, and Dario Ringach—were harassed and threatened by animal rights extremists but continued to defend the importance of their research. They were honored by AAAS “for their rare courage, their strong defense of the importance of the use of animals in research, and their refusal to remain silent in the face of intimidation from animal rights extremists.”

All of the researchers have used non-human primates in their research. London, a professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, studies addiction. Jentsch, a professor of psychology, psychiatry and bio-behavioral sciences, studies schizophrenia, drug addiction, and other psychiatric disorders. Ringach, a neurobiology and psychology professor, has studied higher-order information processing in the visual system of primates.

The Newcomb Cleveland Prize: A Science paper by Waseem Bakr, Simon Fölling, Markus Greiner, and colleagues is being honored for detailing a method for observing individual atoms in an ultra-cold gas as they transitioned from one quantum state to another. The innovative method, which involves cold rubidium atoms moving in a lattice of light, provided an important boost for the engineering of artificial quantum materials and the simulation of solid state systems.

The association’s oldest prize, now supported by Affymetrix, annually recognizes the author or authors of an outstanding paper published in the Research Articles or Reports sections of the journal Science between June and the following May. The winning research was originally published online at the Science Express Web site on 17 June 2010.

The Public Engagement with Science Award: Nalini M. Nadkarni, professor in the Department of The Biology and director of the Center for Science and Math Education at the University of Utah, was honored for “unique, persistent and innovative public engagement activities” focused on “a broad and exceedingly diverse audience.”

Nadkarni and her team work with Washington state prison inmates to promote sustainable strategies such as recycling, organic gardening, composting, and beekeeping. Another of her initiatives resulted in the creation of Tree-Top Barbie™ to teach girls about the possibilities of careers in science. She also is the founder of the International Canopy Network, a non-profit organization established to help foster communication among researchers, educators, and conservationists.

Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science: Daniel Colón-Ramos, co-founder of Ciencia Puerto Rico, was honored for his “commitment…to share his enthusiasm for science while simultaneously pursuing a competitive research career.”

Colón-Ramos is an assistant professor of cell biology in the Program in Cellular Neuroscience, Neurodegeneration and Repair at the Yale University School of Medicine. He and his colleagues work with the C. elegans nematode to investigate how individual neurons locate a target to form precise synaptic connections, resulting in the neural circuits that underlie human behavior.

But he has extensive engagements outside the lab: In 2006, while a postdoc at Stanford, Colón-Ramos co-founded Ciencia Puerto Rico, LLC; the non-profit helps organize informal science education and outreach activities across many media—a Web site, podcasts, a book for young audiences and the general public, and scientist-written articles for lay audiences in Spanish-language media.

The Lifetime Mentor Award: Bobby Wilson, a popular and highly effective educator and scholar at Texas Southern University, was honored for “his extraordinary efforts to significantly increase the number of African Americans with Ph.D. degrees” in STEM fields.

Wilson is the L. Lloyd Woods Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Shell Oil Endowed Chaired Professor of Environmental Toxicology at Texas Southern. One supporter noted that, in the period from 2000 to 2009, a total of 24 African American students in the United States received doctoral degrees in disciplines linked to environmental engineering technologies. Nine of them—more than a third in all—were Wilson’s students.

Said one accomplished protégé: “His ability to remain grounded and remain focused on developing students into scientific leaders is uncanny and by far his crowning legacy and proof of his global impact.”

The Mentor Award: Rory A. Cooper of the University of Pittsburgh was honored for successful efforts to increase the number of women and persons with disabilities with Ph.Ds in rehabilitation science. He is a successful researcher in the area of assistive technology, with a special focus on wounded veterans, and colleagues describe him as a tireless activist for the rights of people with disabilities.

He has mentored 18 Ph.D students from the United States from underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), including 13 women and nine individuals with disabilities. Overall, he has mentored 100 undergraduate students, 69 master’s degree students, 39 Ph.D students, and 17 postdocs, 50% of whom have come from underrepresented groups in STEM.

The AAAS prizes, considered some of the most significant in world science, will be presented at the 178th AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia. The awards ceremony and reception will be held in Ballroom B of the Vancouver Convention Centre, West Building, on Friday 17 February from 6:00 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.

Also on Wednesday evening, AAAS announced the winners of the annual Joshua E. Neimark Memorial Travel Assistance Endowment, each of whom will present research posters at the AAAS Annual Meeting. The Neimark winners are:

  • Susannah Gordon-Messer, SERP Institute, Harvard Graduate School of Education, whose research has focused on a middle school science curriculum based on the New Frameworks for K-12 Science Education, set out by the National Academies;
  • Christa A. Hasenkopf, CIRES, University of Colorado, who has studied air pollution in Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar, and public outreach about the problem;
  • Hillary LeBail, The Ohio State University; conducted research at the Alaska SeaLife Center on climate change education; and
  • Meredith T. Niles, University of California, Davis, has explored how farmers make decisions related to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

[Read more information on the AAAS awards.]