February 22, 2011

Faculty Attend Meeting for Science Advancement

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Erin Szulman was one of two students that took part in Professor Bruce Lewnstein’s Science Writing Practicum, a course that allowed Szulman to travel to Washington, D.C. and cover the American Association of the Advancement of Science meeting on behalf of this newspaper.

Washington, D.C. provided a vibrant backdrop to this year’s annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science.  The extended weekend, which opened on Thursday, Feb. 17 and closed on Monday, Feb. 21, featured prominent scientists and policymakers from a wide range of disciplines. Cornell was well-represented at the meeting with five faculty speakers, one faculty moderator and a range of student participants.

Prof. Edward Buckler, plant breeding and genetics, spoke at an event titled “Plant Breeding Today: Genomics and Computing Advances Bring Speed and Precision.”

Prof. Janis L. Dickinson, natural resources, discussed the role of the Cornell Lab or Ornithology in a panel titled “Crossing Boundaries with Citizen Science.”

Prof. Hod Lipson, mechanical and aerospace engineering, gave two talks on self-reflective machines and digital bioprinting with a focus on skin.

Prof. Susan McCouch, plant breeding and genetics, spoke alongside Professor Buckler with a focus on “Discovery of Genes for Crop Improvement from Wild Ancestor Plants.”

Prof. Mariana Wolfner, molecular biology and genetics, gave a presentation on “Seminal Proteins from Male Insects Affect Mated Females’ Behavior and Reproduction.”

Prof. Bruce Lewenstein, communication, moderated a discussion on “Reaching Out to People in East Asia on Green Issues: Policies and Practices.”

Student scientists presented at the AAAS poster competition, and Triple Helix members presented articles at another poster session.

The meeting featured a number of groundbreaking announcements, like Congressman Bill Foster’s initiative to make Albert’s List, a political action committee devoted to getting more scientists in Congress, and Professor Lipson’s skin printing achievements.  The meeting also featured new advancements in research, and shed light on interesting problems, like the growing concern with nitrogen, which has not been particularly newsworthy as of recent.

In a discussion about the role of U.S. federal agencies in increasing science capacity with developing nations, Dr. Bruce Alberts, Editor in Chief of Science and U.S. Science Envoy, emphasized the ability for the U.S. Science Envoy Program to be “a new model for engagement.”  “If we got this right, we could make this a major program at the Department of State.”  He highlighted the need for increased investments in science and technology, with the aim of making a merit-based culture in Muslim majority countries.  He announced the effort to make a digital knowledge hub online that would allow scientists and students in developing countries to have access to scientific materials, data and information.

Dr. John Holdren, Science and Technology Advisor to President Barack Obama, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology gave the plenary lecture Friday evening to a packed audience.  He discussed economic recovery and the role that health care, energy and climate, environmental resources, and national and homeland security play in promoting economic growth.  Holdren highlighted the proposed increases in the 2012 fiscal year budget, with significant money being added to science agency budgets.  The Federal Research and Development Budget is up 800 million dollars, the Basic and Applied Research Budget is up 6.9 Billion dollars, and the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation saw increases of 20 percent and 13 percent, respectively.  Holdren quoted President Obama who said “I wish I could spend more time with scientists and less time with sports teams,” during one of their meetings.

Scientists addressed the concern of a “Global Hurricane Katrina,” and if space weather — like a solar storm — could have a devastating impact on global communications and other infrastructures.  “Please don’t panic,” said Stephan Lechner of the European Commission and JRC Institute for Protection and Security of the Citizen.  “This is really a global problem,” he continued, noting the need for international collaboration.  “We will find ourselves in a more vulnerable electronically equipped society in 2025.”  Dr. Jane Lubchenco, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, noted that we are going to be looking at the possibility of more events…and stronger events. “We must continue to support the space weather predictions and modeling tools,” she said, adding “space weather should be everyone’s business.”

Sir John Beddington, Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government highlighted the fact that our vulnerability to solar weather has increased enormously, and we need to get our predictions as close as we can.  He also expressed the need to work with other governments.  “If we don’t collaborate, it’s going to be significantly problematic.”

The need for international collaboration was addressed at a number of the meeting’s events, in line with the meeting’s theme “Science Without Borders.”  Next year’s meeting will take place in Vancouver and is themed “Flattening the World: Building a Global Knowledge Society.”

Original Author: Erin Szulman