News: AAAS News & Notes
29 January 2010
Edited by Edward W. Lempinen
Alice Huang: Passion, Freedom Are Crucial to Global S&T Progress
Incoming AAAS president. Alice S. Huang, a senior faculty associate in biology at Caltech, will become the president of AAAS on 22 February, when the association’s annual meeting closes in San Diego.
The old year was ending and a new one beginning, and Alice Huang was scanning the popular news media lists of the most influential people of 2009 and the decade past, hoping to see a scientist or an engineer. This year, she didn’t find one.
Though there are many worthy candidates, the lack of public recognition defines a crucial challenge for American science,
the incoming AAAS president said in a recent interview. Scientists and science teachers must do more to convey to the public—and to science students—the idealism, creativity, and passion that drive many breakthroughs.
Huang, a distinguished virologist now at the California Institute of Technology, described how the thrill of her own first discoveries inspired a career of research. But too often these days, she said, even excellent students lack that passion.
“We don’t focus on that when we first talk to people about science,” Huang said. “When young people come to me and ask for advice, I find that they’re very focused on ‘how do I get ahead, and how do I get the position I want?’ Somehow they’ve forgotten... the joy of living a passionate life. Every scientist I’ve met who is successful is indeed passionate about what they do.”
In Huang’s view, talking about passion and idealism is crucial for addressing challenges in health, energy, the environment, and other fields. It can help build public understanding of science and support for investment in research and development. It can help recruit more students into science and engineering, especially from the underutilized pool of women and minorities. Overseas, it can help drive home the point that a culture of freedom is critical to scientific advancement.
Huang knows her subject well—since earning her Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins in 1966, she has come to occupy an influential position at the juncture of research, education, and diplomacy.
As a graduate student, Huang discovered and characterized defective interfering viruses—viruses that have the potential to help control viral diseases in plants, animals, and humans. Her work raised the possibility that defective interfering viral particles could be used for disease prevention. Her postdoctoral work with David Baltimore at the Salk Institute and MIT on vesicular stomatitis virus led the way to Baltimore’s Nobel Prize–winning discovery of reverse transcriptase.
Huang spent 20 years on the faculty at Harvard Medical School; from 1979 to 1990, she also directed the Laboratories of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital in Boston. She was appointed dean of science at New York University in 1991, and in 1997 moved west to serve as senior councilor for external relations at Caltech. Today, she’s a senior faculty associate in biology there.
Huang is a past president of the American Society for Microbiology, and served from 2004 to 2009 on the California Council on Science and Technology. She has consulted on science policy for government agencies in China, Taiwan, and Singapore; at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, there’s a species of orchid named for her.
Born in the city of Nanchang in southeastern China, Huang came to the United States with her family as a young girl.
Her father had been bishop of the Anglican Episcopal ministry in Southwest China, but if not for his calling to the clergy, he told her, he might have been a doctor. Her mother was a nurse.
From age 7, Huang set out to become a physician. Attending parochial girls’ schools, “I had some wonderful teachers,” she recalled. “They understood why I was curious about things and gave me the tools to realize the answers to my curiosity.”
It was at Johns Hopkins that she was first exposed to scientific research, and that diverted her from medicine. But she was involved in medical research for much of her career, working on viruses, cancer, HIV, and other diseases.
She served on the AAAS Board of Directors from 1997 to 2001 and was elected a AAAS Fellow in 2000. She will succeed Nobel laureate Peter Agre as president when the AAAS Annual Meeting closes on 22 February; Agre will begin a 1-year term as chairman of the AAAS Board.
Huang sees AAAS and Science as strongly positioned to support the scientific enterprise on issues ranging from political manipulation of data to reducing laboratories’ paperwork requirements. She cited two priority areas for continuing AAAS efforts: supporting women and minorities, and international science engagement.
International science collaboration can propagate a scientific culture based on free inquiry and meritocracy, Huang said. “The unfettering of curiosity and freedom to ask questions in pursuit of scientific discoveries can become a subtle force for a freer society and less authoritarian governing system.”
In the United States, science must help women and minorities break through the glass ceiling to leadership positions. “They’re generally hired into the profession and not promoted in proportion to their numbers,” she said. “It’s a tragic loss of individuals who have the talent and capability and who really have the ability to contribute to our society.”
Science Books & Film Gets Digital Makeover
After 44 years in print, AAAS’s Science Books & Film has gone online with a host of new features, ensuring the venerable journal’s position as one of the world’s leading authorities on science media resources.
Podcast interviews with authors, a weekly editor’s blog, and a searchable database of thousands of reviews are among the valuable new tools for librarians, parents, and readers. Although best known for its reviews of children’s books, SB&F also covers science television and film, software, and Web sites.
“SB&F has been a one-of-a-kind journal for decades,” said Heather Malcomson, the journal’s editor for the past 8 years. “But I think that the online presence, using a number of platforms, will really give us an opportunity to reach more people, and more young people. We know the enthusiasm for science reading is out there, and we want to connect those readers with the best the science world has to offer.”
Each monthly online issue, available at www.sbfonline.com, contains about 75 reviews written by scientists, educators, and media specialists. But the new blog for subscribers expands these offerings with a weekly look at new books and software, science on television, and ongoing SB&F projects. Malcomson hopes that the blog will also “become an interactive place for me to communicate with our readers.”
Librarians, who rely on the reviews to guide critical purchasing decisions for their science sections, make up the bulk of more than 1500 journal subscribers, according to Malcomson. Patrons of many public libraries, as well as individual subscribers, have full access to all of SB&F’s features, including lists of the past year’s Best Books for Children, Junior High, and High School Students, and Best Video and Software.
Subscribers can also plan their monthly viewing schedule with the help of SB&F’s “Science on TV” column, which offers short descriptions of select programs with a scientific bent.
Even without a subscription, visitors to SB&F online can listen to the journal’s podcast series, “AAAS Book Talks.” The series, supported by the William T. Golden Endowment Fund for Program Innovation, interviews award-winning science authors to learn more about their inspiration and future projects.
“The authors have really interesting stories to share about where the idea for the book came from or stories behind the book, like research expeditions,” said Malcomson, who does many of the interviews along with SB&F Editor-in-Chief Maria Sosa. “All of the authors have a desire to communicate science in a way that is exciting and encourages listeners to take an interest in science.”
Along with auto manufacturer Subaru, SB&F sponsors an annual award honoring individual science books. The AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books celebrate outstanding science writing and illustration for children and young adults.
Call for Nomination of 2010 Fellows
AAAS Fellows who are current members of the association are invited to nominate members for election as Fellows. A Fellow is defined as a member “whose efforts on behalf of the advancement of science or its applications are scientifically or socially distinguished.” A nomination must be sponsored by three AAAS Fellows, two of whom must have no affiliation with the nominee’s institution.
Nominations undergo review by the steering groups of the association’s sections (the chair, chair-elect, retiring chair, secretary, and four members-at-large of each section). Each steering group reviews only those nominations designated for its section. Names of Fellow nominees who are approved by the steering groups are presented to the AAAS Council for election.
Nominations with complete documentation must be received by 10 May 2010. Nominations received after that date will be held for the following year. The nomination form and a list of current AAAS Fellows can be found at www.aaas.org/aboutaaas/fellows. To request a hard copy of the nomination form, please contact the AAAS Executive Office, 1200 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC, 20005, USA; at 202-326-6635; or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seeking Global Solutions, Scientists Meet in San Diego
The AAAS Annual Meeting has long been known as the premier multidisciplinary science gathering in the United States, but this year it will continue its evolution to a prime international affair: When the meeting convenes in San Diego from 18 to 22 February, scientists, journalists, and educators from more than 50 nations will be there.
In his invitation to the meeting, AAAS President and Nobel laureate Peter C. Agre urged his colleagues to embrace a global vision of science. The meeting “calls on every scientist and engineer to make their work both beneficial and understandable,” said Agre. “It is a call to action that resonates around the world.”
Convening under the banner “Bridging Science and Society,” top researchers will discuss their findings in the context of global challenges in the environment, economy, health, and education. Attendees can explore cutting-edge research in the neurosciences, energy, astrobiology, public health, and environmental change, and learn how these advances directly affect courtroom trials, care for the elderly, sustainable cities, border security, and other public concerns. Experts will also discuss efforts to open up laboratories and factories and bring research to the classroom in an unprecedented effort to show students the day-to-day world of discovery and application.
Agre will open the 176th Annual Meeting with a presidential address; other prominent speakers include U.S. presidential adviser Eric Lander, who will discuss science and technology in the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama; Nobel laureate Carol Greider, who will talk on the genetics of degenerative disease; U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt, who will speak on ocean science; and International Linear Collider Director Barry C. Barish, whose address will focus on new frontiers in particle physics.
The staff of Science, ScienceNOW, and AAAS’s Science Update radio program will provide coverage from San Diego in news reports, podcasts, and blogs. AAAS.org’s Annual Meeting News Blog will provide extensive reporting on symposia and briefings, along with links to U.S. and international news coverage. Find the full spectrum of Annual Meeting coverage at www.aaas.org/go/news.
For registration and other information about the 2010 Annual Meeting, visit www.aaas.org/meetings. Information from the meeting will also be posted at the 2010 AAAS Annual Meeting and ScienceNOW pages on Facebook, and via Twitter at #AAAS10.