Yale News

Seven Yale faculty members were named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, marking the largest group of fellows from Yale in over a decade.

AAAS is the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society, with individual members from over 91 countries. The institution is also a leading publisher of cutting-edge research through its Science journal family. In a tradition dating back to 1874, the AAAS council annually recognizes remarkable scientists, innovators and engineers from a variety of disciplines to be fellows. 

The new fellows from Yale are Liza Comita, Enrique De La Cruz, Erika Edwards, Vanessa Ezenwa, Eduardo Fernandez-Duque, David Lewkowicz and Priyamvada Natarajan. 

To me, recognition from AAAS means that my fellow scientists think the work we are doing in my laboratory is advancing knowledge in my field,” wrote Vanessa Ezenwa, Yale Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, in an email to the News. “This is what I strive to do every day as a scientist, so it’s an honor to be recognized for it.”

Ezenwa studies how parasites interact with their hosts in their natural environment, providing insight into how infectious diseases work. Since most novel human diseases originate in animals, studying infectious diseases in the wild is critical to determining how new human diseases are likely to emerge.

In addition to Ezenwa, one other of Yale’s seven newly recognized AAAS fellows is also a member of  the ecology and evolutionary biology department.

Erika Edwards, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and curator of botany at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, is currently in Argentina collecting plant samples. She studies the evolution of photosynthetic metabolism, or how so many plant lineages independently adapted to transform light, water and carbon dioxide into sugar.

“I especially love that we have such a great cohort of new fellows at Yale this year — and I’m proud of my dept (EEB) for having two new fellows at once!” Edwards wrote in an email to the News.

Among the additional Yale fellows include two departmental chairs.

Priyamvada Natarajan, the chair of the department of astronomy, studies the formation and function of supermassive black holes and the mapping of dark matter in galaxies.

Enrique De La Cruz, chair of the department of molecular biophysics and biochemistry and head of Branford College, researches actin cytoskeleton, molecular motor proteins and nucleotide signaling enzymes.

Another leader in her field, professor of tropical forest ecology Liza Comita is the co-director of the Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture. She studies the ecological patterns that drive biodiversity in pristine and human-altered tropical forests, combining field studies and statistical techniques.

The final two newly recognized AAAS fellows research social interactions. 

David Lewkowicz, adjunct professor in the Yale Child Study Center, researches how basic perceptual and attention skills contribute to the development of speech and language, providing a basis for new therapeutic interventions for autism. 

Eduardo Fernandez-Duque, professor of anthropology, studies the pair-bonding, sexual monogamy and biparental care behavior of owl-monkeys. Through observing live-primates he hopes to understand the evolution of human behavior.

“This is recognition not of me, but of everything we have done,” Fernandez-Duque said. “This is an acknowledgement to how this is a project that has established itself, that has an international recognition, that is contributing to science and all that makes it more likely that my younger colleagues will continue this work.”

The new AAAS fellows will receive a certificate and pin to commemorate their election in Washington, D.C. later this year.

Valentina Simon covers Astronomy, Computer Science and Engineering stories. She is a freshman in Timothy Dwight College majoring in Data Science and Statistics.