News: AAAS News & Notes
31 August 2012
Edited by Edward W. Lempinen
Can a New Vision Bring New Life to Biology Class?
As the fall semester begins at U.S. high schools and universities, the rites of introductory biology begin anew: Tens of thousands of students are listening to lectures on photosynthesis, memorizing parts of the cell, and learning the terms of taxonomy. The lessons would be familiar to their parents, in some cases even to their grandparents.
And that, experts say, is the problem. While biological research is advancing at warp speed, amassing new insights and new data as the lines separating biology, chemistry, mathematics, and engineering dissolve and the fields converge, biology education has seemed stuck in the 20th century. Now, urged on by science and education leaders—and many teachers—a growing number of schools are taking a new approach.
In the place of courses based solely on lectures and memorization, they are incorporating the latest practices of biological research, engaging students with the opportunity to think and work like scientists on issues with real-world relevance.
“We need education that will excite and inspire young people who will go on to become scientists and workers in biology-related fields,” said Alan I. Leshner, the chief executive officer of AAAS. “At the same time, we need to give all students a coherent view of the processes of life so that they’ll understand issues in their own lives and communities—issues like health, environmental protection, and biosecurity.”
Leshner and others say that a transformation in biology education, from elementary school through graduate school, will be essential to support biotechnology, biomedicine, and other sectors that will be centers of 21st-century innovation and economic growth. Without that, the risk is that U.S. leadership in these fields will diminish, at great economic cost.
In the past 25 years, some two dozen major reports have focused in part or in full on improving biology and related science education. But in recent years, the idea has moved closer to critical mass.
Nobel laureate Phillip A. Sharp of MIT co-chaired the National Research Council committee that produced A New Biology for the 21st Century, published in 2009. Now the president-elect of AAAS, Sharp predicts that biology will be crucial in addressing global challenges in climate change, food security, energy, and health.
In an interview, Sharp said that to build new understanding of tumors or ecosystems, scientists must be able to analyze oceans of new data generated by genomic sequencing, imaging, and other advanced technology. Upper-level science and pre-med students will need skills in writing computer programs, working with databases, and analyzing statistics.
Even in Biology 101, “you have to introduce material that illustrates the importance of this emerging power in biological science,” Sharp said. “Ideally, with the right support system or online system ... you can get students to do simple computational problems.”
A broad effort under way since 2006 embraces the idea that undergrad students should be exposed to the real practice of science. The project, overseen by Yolanda George, deputy director of AAAS Education and Human Resources, in collaboration with the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), brought hundreds of educators, students, policy-makers, scientists, and others together for a series of regional and national meetings on transforming biology education.
The resulting 2011 report—Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action—offers a detailed, evidence-based agenda for transforming the curriculum and the culture. Among the key recommendations: Guide students to understanding of core concepts in courses that “are active ... inquiry-driven, and relevant,” featuring research experience as “an integral component.”
Too often, faculty use teaching methods that do not match the cutting-edge character of their biological research, said Terry Woodin, a program director in NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education. In the Vision and Change meetings, she said, the message from students was clear: If you want to inform and inspire, lectures and memorization alone can be counterproductive.
“Most students are savvy users of the Web, so there’s not so much need anymore to memorize everything,” Woodin explained. “They want to feel that they’re part of the science community, and that they’re learning things that can be related to the real world. They want to be challenged to think.”
Instructors, obviously, are crucial to the transformation of biology education. Through the BEN Scholars (BEN is short for BiosciEdNet), AAAS and its partners in the program are training select faculty members in the use of resources from the BEN Portal digital library; they bring their new insight not only to students but also to other faculty at their institutions. The Partnership for Undergraduate Life Sciences Education—PULSE—is a new effort by NSF, NIH, and HHMI that plans to enlist 40 Vision and Change Leadership Fellows to implement findings from the 2011 report.
And Project 2061, the AAAS science literacy initiative, is working with teachers in Colorado, Maryland, Boston, and Washington, D.C., on a module that prepares middle-school students for high school biology—by teaching them chemistry.
Director Jo Ellen Roseman said the lessons focus on polymer formation, a central process in sustaining life. Students use time-lapse photos to explore growth in animals. They see how mixing two colorless chemical solutions can yield nylon fibers; then they use Lego blocks and other models to visualize biological growth at the molecular level.
“My mission was to see if we could get kids understanding that biology is chemistry,” Roseman explained. Among a small group of teachers involved in the project last spring, “all got significant learning gains,” she added. “It’s very exciting.”
Of course, there will be obstacles to the transformation of biology education. Shirley Malcom, director of AAAS Education and Human Resources, says many of them are cultural—old habits die hard. But as more educators embrace the new ideas, she says, the Vision and Change project is entering a new phase: It will assess how the report’s recommendations are being adopted and which of them are proving effective.
“Change is hard and transformations don’t happen overnight,” Malcom said. “It’s a process—we need to try new things, refine them, and keep working at them. The hope is that all of these efforts will help people to see the great potential of these new ideas.”
Scientists Urge Obama, Romney to Address Key S&T Issues
AAAS has joined more than a dozen leading U.S. science and engineering organizations in preparing a list of science questions that they say President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney should debate in the 2012 campaign.
Culled from thousands of suggestions gathered by the nonprofit advocacy organization ScienceDebate.org, the final 14 questions posted at the organization’s Web site cover topics including innovation and international competitiveness, climate change, energy policy, ocean health, and the future of space exploration. The full set of questions has also been sent to the Obama and Romney campaigns.
While many of the questions invite the candidates to give a broad overview of their policy positions, others are quite specific. Regarding high school science test scores, one question asks: “In your view, why have American students fallen behind in the last three decades?” A climate change question asks: “What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, and other policies proposed to address global climate change?”
The presidential candidates in 2008 answered a similar set of questions compiled by ScienceDebate.org, although they declined to participate in a full debate advocated by the organization. Shawn Lawrence Otto, the CEO and co-founder of ScienceDebate.org, said at least one of the 2012 presidential debate moderators has agreed to consider the 14 questions as they assemble their topics.
Otto feels that a format change, dedicating blocks of 10 to 15 min to specific issues in two of the debates, makes it more likely that the candidates will face one of the science questions.
“The old model was that science was this cloistered activity set apart from the national dialogue,” he said. But “our polling shows that 85% of voters across party lines think these issues should be debated by the candidates.”
Separately, the AAAS Office of Government Relations has developed a Web site that describes and tracks the candidates’ positions on science, technology, and innovation issues. The site—http://elections.aaas.org—focuses on the candidates’ policies on competitiveness and innovation; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education and the workforce; climate and energy; health and medical research; and national security.
AAAS Annual Election: Preliminary Announcement
The 2012 AAAS election of general and section officers is scheduled to be held in November. All members will receive a ballot for election of the president-elect, members of the Board of Directors, and members of the Committee on Nominations. Members registered in more than one section will receive election ballots for each section they are enrolled in.
Candidates for 23 of the 24 section offices are listed on the following pages. Additional names may be placed in nomination for any office by petition submitted to the Chief Executive Officer no later than 28 September. Petitions nominating candidates for president-elect, members of the Board, or members of the Committee on Nominations must bear the signatures of at least 100 members of the Association. Petitions nominating candidates for any section office must bear the signatures of at least 50 members of the section. A petition to place an additional name in nomination for any office must be accompanied by the nominee’s curriculum vitae and statement of acceptance of nomination. Biographical information for the following candidates will be enclosed with the ballots mailed to members in November.
Slate of Candidates
- Section Elections
- Agriculture, Food, and Renewable Resources
Chair Elect: Sally Mackenzie, Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln; Michael F. Thomashow, Michigan State Univ.
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Richard A. Dixon, Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation; Pamela C. Ronald, Univ. of California, Davis
Electorate Nominating Committee: Marty Dickman, Texas A&M Univ.; Roger P. Hangarter, Indiana Univ.; Susan Mary Moran, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture; Linda L. Walling, Univ. of California, Riverside
Chair Elect: Nina G. Jablonski, Pennsylvania State Univ.; Sarah Williams-Blangero, Texas Biomedical Research Institute
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: George R. Milner, Pennsylvania State Univ.; Margaret C. Nelson, Arizona State Univ.
Electorate Nominating Committee: Agustín Fuentes, Univ. of Notre Dame; Lisa Kealhofer, Santa Clara Univ.; Stephen H. Lekson, Univ. of Colorado at Boulder; Lisa Sattenspiel, Univ. of Missouri-Columbia
Council Delegate: Clark Spencer Larsen, Ohio State Univ.; Dolores R. Piperno, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Chair Elect: Debra Meloy Elmegreen, Vassar College; Robert P. Kirshner, Harvard Univ.
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Chryssa Kouveliotou, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center; Edward L. (Ned) Wright, Univ. of California, Los Angeles
Electorate Nominating Committee: Edmund Bertschinger, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Margaret Meixner, Space Telescope Science Center; Heidi Jo Newberg, Rensselaer Polytechnic Univ.; Jean L. Turner, Univ. of California, Los Angeles
Council Delegate: Eugene H. Levy, Rice Univ.; Douglas O. Richstone, Univ. of Michigan
- Atmospheric and Hydrospheric Sciences
Chair Elect: William H. Brune, Pennsylvania State Univ.; Antonio J. Busalacchi Jr., Univ. of Maryland, College Park
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Ana P. Barros, Duke Univ.; Russell R. Dickerson, Univ. of Maryland, College Park
Electorate Nominating Committee: Ronald C. Cohen, Univ. of California, Berkeley; Diane M. McKnight, Univ. of Colorado at Boulder; Michael J. Prather, Univ. of California, Irvine; Patricia K. Quinn, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Biological Sciences
Chair Elect: Richard M. Amasino, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison; Dennis J. Thiele, Duke Univ.
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Bonnie Bartel, Rice Univ.; Joel G. Kingsolver, Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Electorate Nominating Committee: Tom Curran, Univ. of Pennsylvania/Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Jaquelin P. Dudley, Univ. of Texas at Austin; Ann K. Sakai, Univ. of California, Irvine; Suzanne Sandmeyer, Univ. of California, Irvine
Council Delegate: Sankar Adhya, National Cancer Institute/NIH; James R. Broach, Pennsylvania State Univ.; Judy Callis, Univ. of California, Davis; Lynn Cooley, Yale Univ.; Marcus W. Feldman, Stanford Univ.; Jessica Gurevitch, Stony Brook Univ.; David M. Lodge, Univ. of Notre Dame; William J. Lucas, Univ. of California, Davis; George A. O’Toole, Dartmouth College; David B. Stern, Boyce Thompson Institute; Nancy C. Walworth, Univ. of Medicine and Dentistry, New Jersey; Jianzhi Zhang, Univ. of Michigan
Chair Elect: David G. Lynn, Emory Univ.; Thomas E. Mallouk, Pennsylvania State Univ.
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Marc M. Greenberg, Johns Hopkins Univ.; Susannah Scott, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara
Electorate Nominating Committee: Susan Beda Butts, Susan B. Butts Consulting; Sheila S. David, Univ. of California, Davis; Sharon L. Neal, Univ. of Delaware; David A. Wink, National Cancer Institute/NIH
Council Delegate: Judith N. Burstyn, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison; Marisa C. Kozlowski, Univ. of Pennsylvania; Robert L. Lichter, Merrimack Consultants; Donna J. Nelson, Univ. of Oklahoma; Charlie Riordan, Univ. of Delaware; Robert A. Walker, Montana State Univ.
- Dentistry and Oral Health Sciences
Chair Elect: Adele Ludin Boskey, Hospital for Special Surgery; Luisa Ann DiPietro, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Frank C. Nichols, Univ. of Connecticut; Ichiro Nishimura, Univ. of California, Los Angeles
Electorate Nominating Committee: Linda C. Niessen, Dentsply International; Douglas S. Ramsay, Univ. of Washington; Paulette Spencer, Univ. of Kansas; Thomas E. Van Dyke, Forsyth Institute
Chair Elect: John R. Jungck, Beloit College; Cathy Manduca, Carleton College
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Melanie M. Cooper, Clemson Univ.; Steven Semken, Arizona State Univ.
Electorate Nominating Committee: Penny J. Gilmer, Florida State Univ.; Patrick Hamilton, Science Museum of Minnesota; Ramon E. Lopez, Univ. of Texas at Arlington; Gordon E. Uno, Univ. of Oklahoma
Chair Elect: Nicholas A. Peppas, Univ. of Texas at Austin; Fawwaz Ulaby, Univ. of Michigan
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Ilesanmi “Ade” Adesida, Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Jeffrey J. Chalmers, Ohio State Univ.
Electorate Nominating Committee: Panos J. Antsaklis, Univ. of Notre Dame; Richard G. Baraniuk, Rice Univ.; William E. Bentley, Univ. of Maryland, College Park; Edmund Seebauer, Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- General Interest in Science and Engineering
Chair Elect: Terry Devitt, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison; James P. O’Brien, Tidewater Community College
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Mariette DiChristina, Scientific American; Erica Goldman, COMPASS
Electorate Nominating Committee: James E. Barlow, Univ. of Oregon; Rick Borchelt, National Cancer Institute/NIH; Lynn E. Elfner, Ohio Academy of Science; Assad Panah, Univ. of Pittsburgh-Bradford; Katherine E. Rowan, George Mason Univ.
- Geology and Geography
Chair Elect: William H. Schlesinger, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies; Daniel Schrag, Harvard Univ.
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: John A. Tarduno, Univ. of Rochester; Stephen G. Wells, Desert Research Institute
Electorate Nominating Committee: Paul Higgins, American Meteorological Society; Mary Anne Holmes, Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln; Lloyd D. Keigwin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Paul L. Koch, Univ. of California, Santa Cruz
Council Delegate: Soroosh Sorooshian, Univ. of California, Irvine; Ben A. van der Pluijm, Univ. of Michigan
- History and Philosophy of Science
Chair Elect: Anita Guerrini, Oregon State Univ.; Rose-Mary Sargent, Merrimack College
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Mark E. Borrello, Univ. of Minnesota; Diana Kormos Buchwald, California Institute of Technology
Electorate Nominating Committee: Richard M. Burian, Virginia Tech; Michael R. Dietrich, Dartmouth College; John Dupré, Univ. of Exeter (U.K.); Manfred D. Laubichler, Arizona State Univ.
- Industrial Science and Technology
Chair Elect: Gary E. Marchant, Arizona State Univ.; Steven W. Popper, RAND Corporation
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Gary L. Messing, Pennsylvania State Univ.; Charles G. Wade, IBM Almaden Research Center
Electorate Nominating Committee: Brian C. Benicewicz, Univ. of South Carolina; Paul S. Drzaic, Apple, Inc.; Martin C. Richardson, Univ. of Central Florida; Edmund Seebauer, Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- Information, Computing, and Communication
Chair Elect: J.J. Garcia-Luna-Aceves, Univ. of California, Santa Cruz; Gligor Tashkovich, American Research Center in Sofia (Bulgaria); Barry D. Wessler, Consultant
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Duncan A. Buell, Univ. of South Carolina; Paulo A. de Souza Jr., Univ. of Tasmania (Australia); William Gropp, Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Electorate Nominating Committee: Tom Mitchell, Carnegie Mellon Univ.; Peter Norvig, Google; Moshe Y. Vardi, Rice Univ.; Jeffrey S. Vitter, Univ. of Kansas
- Linguistics and Language Science
Chair Elect: Sandra Chung, Univ. of California, Santa Cruz; Richard T. Oehrle, Ernst & Young
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Kirk Hazen, West Virginia Univ.; Carol A. Padden, Univ. of California, San Diego
Electorate Nominating Committee: Mark C. Baker, Rutgers Univ.; Peter W. Culicover, Ohio State Univ.; Allard Jongman, Univ. of Kansas; James Pustejovsky, Brandeis Univ.
Chair Elect: David M. Bressoud, Macalester College; David C. Manderscheid, Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Susan Friedlander, Univ. of Southern California; Reinhard Laubenbacher, Virginia Tech
Electorate Nominating Committee: Harvey Thomas Banks, North Carolina State Univ.; Susanne C. Brenner, Louisiana State Univ.; Barbara Lee Keyfitz, Ohio State Univ.; William Yslas Vélez, Univ. of Arizona
Council Delegate: Deborah F. Lockhart, National Science Foundation; Abdulalim A. Shabazz, Grambling State Univ.
Chair Elect: Marie-Françoise Chesselet, Univ. of California, Los Angeles; Pat Levitt, Univ. of Southern California
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Theodore W. Berger, Univ. of Southern California; Joshua R. Sanes, Harvard Univ.
Electorate Nominating Committee: Donald S. Faber, Albert Einstein College of Medicine; William C. Mobley, Univ. of California, San Diego; Peter L. Strick, Univ. of Pittsburgh; Li-Huei Tsai, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Council Delegate: Harry T. Orr, Univ. of Minnesota; Stuart M. Zola, Emory Univ.
- Pharmaceutical Sciences
Chair Elect: Deanna L. Kroetz, Univ. of California, San Francisco; Patrick J. McNamara, Univ. of Kentucky
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Kathleen M. Giacomini, Univ. of California, San Francisco; Craig K. Svensson, Purdue Univ. College of Pharmacy
Electorate Nominating Committee: Carlos Enrique Catalano, Univ. of Washington School of Pharmacy; Stephen V. Frye, Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Margaret O. James, Univ. of Florida; Jashvant (Jash) D. Unadkat, Univ. of Washington
Chair Elect: Susan N. Coppersmith, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison; Steven M. Girvin, Yale Univ.
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: E. William Colglazier, U.S. Dept. of State; Don Q. Lamb, Univ. of Chicago
Electorate Nominating Committee: Eva Y. Andrei, Rutgers Univ.; David D. Awschalom, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Sharon C. Glotzer, Univ. of Michigan; Arthur F. Hebard, Univ. of Florida
Council Delegate: Robert H. Austin, Princeton Univ.; Arthur Bienenstock, Stanford Univ.; Ramon E. Lopez, Univ. of Texas at Arlington; Philip W. Phillips, Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Chair Elect: Barbara Landau, Johns Hopkins Univ.; James L. McClelland, Stanford Univ.
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Lynne M. Reder, Carnegie Mellon Univ.; Barbara Spellman, Univ. of Virginia
Electorate Nominating Committee: Morton Ann Gernsbacher, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison; Paul W. Glimcher, New York Univ.; Judith F. Kroll, Pennsylvania State Univ.; Seth David Pollak, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison
- Social, Economic, and Political Sciences
Chair Elect: Kenneth C. Land, Duke Univ.; Barbara Torrey, National Institute on Aging/NIH
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Elizabeth Cooksey, Ohio State Univ.; Sally T. Hillsman, American Sociological Association
Electorate Nominating Committee: Kaye Husbands Fealing, Univ. of Minnesota/National Academy of Sciences; Guillermina Jasso, New York Univ.; Ronald R. Rindfuss, Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; David Trinkle, Univ. of California, Berkeley
- Societal Impacts of Science and Engineering
Chair Elect: Richard E. Bissell, National Research Council; James R. Fleming, Colby College
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Roger D. Launius, Smithsonian Institution; Caroline S. Wagner, Ohio State Univ.
Electorate Nominating Committee: Clinton J. Andrews, Rutgers Univ.; Jennifer Sue Bond, Council on Competitiveness; Stephen D. Nelson, AAAS; Zuoyue Wang, Cal Poly Pomona
Chair Elect: David L. DeMets, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison; R. W. Doerge, Purdue Univ.
Member-at-Large of the Section Committee: Josée Dupuis, Boston Univ.; Joan F. Hilton, Univ. of California, San Francisco
Electorate Nominating Committee: Michael Boehnke, Univ. of Michigan; James L. Rosenberger, Pennsylvania State Univ.; Martin T. Wells, Cornell Univ.; Bin Yu, Univ. of California, Berkeley