Two Yale faculty members — professor of neurosurgery and of neuroscience Charles Greer and professor of biomedical engineering and of cell biology Martin Schwartz — have been elected 2016 Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society.
Known for publishing the prominent academic journal Science, the AAAS seeks to “advance science, engineering and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people,” according to the organization’s website. While membership is open to anyone who supports the association’s mission, being named an AAAS Fellow is an honor, said Ginger Pinholster, chief communications officer and director of the Office of Public Programs at AAAS.
“[Becoming an AAAS Fellow] reflects the fact that these individuals have really advanced science in service of society and specifically related to innovation, education and scientific leadership,” Pinholster said. “It really is a wonderful honor — it’s a way for one’s peers to recognize the work that you do.”
Greer and Schwartz are two of 391 new fellows, announced on Nov. 21, who will be honored at the AAAS’s annual meeting, to be held in Boston in February. There are now 58 Yale affiliates who are fellows of the AAAS.
Greer was recognized for his studies of the early development and function of the olfactory system. In particular, Greer’s work has shown that the olfactory system can be a model for understanding stem cell function in the adult brain, which has implications for addressing neurodegenerative problems such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Yale neuroscience professor Gordon Shepherd, a 2007 AAAS Fellow and one of Greer’s nominators, praised Greer for publishing a wide variety of studies, calling him one of the “great authorities” on synapses between dendrites in the olfactory bulb.
“The olfactory system is tremendously important in animal life and in human life, in ways that we are only beginning to appreciate — the more that we understand it, the better,” Shepherd said. “[Greer] is one of the go-to people for understanding the anatomy, physiology and development underlying the receptor cells in the olfactory system.”
Schwartz was honored for his work toward understanding integrin signaling and mechanotransduction. One of his nominators, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and Massachusetts Institute of Technology cancer research professor Richard Hynes, commended Schwartz for his creativity and influence, noting that Schwartz began working on signal transduction by adhesion receptors before most other researchers in the field.
Schwartz described his work as “an incredible thrill.” He specializes in the study of how endothelial cells respond to fluid shear stress, which has led him through a series of disciplines including biophysics and medicine.
“I think one of the greatest challenges [of science] to identify a place where, by working out some tractable system, it will shed light on bigger problems,” Schwartz said. “Most of the great science that’s been done in the history of the world is actually rather simple. They work out the details of one little thing, but the reason it’s important is that it’s the keystone to some larger set of problems, and identifying these problems is the big challenge.”
AAAS general members are eligible to be nominated as fellows after they have been part of the organization for at least four years, Pinholster said. Fellows are nominated by three current AAAS Fellows or by the steering groups of 24 membership “sections,” in which each section corresponds to a different scientific field. The steering groups review nominations before forwarding the final list to the AAAS Council, the policymaking body of the association that ultimately chooses the new fellows.
Yale Peabody Museum Director David Skelly, who was named a fellow in 2010, described the AAAS Fellow designation as a midcareer honor that can serve as a stepping stone to bigger awards, such as election to the prestigious National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. 2015 fellow David Schatz ’80, a professor of immunobiology and molecular biophysics and biochemistry, added that other benefits include the opportunity to participate in the AAAS’ outreach and advocacy efforts toward the public and elected officials.
Greer noted that fellows have a responsibility to remain active in science, which can include organizing symposia for the annual AAAS meeting, serving on special policy advisory committees and continuing education of young scientists.
“Among the best highlights for me have been the postdocs, grad students and undergrads — they’re the ones that are often at the forefront,” Greer said. “They’re the ones at the bench, and they bring so much to a laboratory with their ideas, excitement, tenacity and determination in pursuing a problem.”
The American Association for the Advancement of Science was founded in 1848.