CHICAGO, ILL. — Clever robots inspired by nature, digital strategies for reconstructing masterpieces, "smart" weapons designed to reduce gun violence, and appearances by actor Alan Alda, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu will be a few of this year's headlines at the world's largest general scientific conference.
Sessions on the science of mother's milk, climate change in the Arctic, the value of talking to your baby early and often, the brain in solitary confinement, and new approaches for targeting tumors also promise news at the 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting , 13-17 February in Chicago.
The 180th AAAS Annual Meeting offers free public lectures and hands-on fun for families as well as an array of technical sessions for registrants. The Annual Meeting of "Triple-A-S" — publisher of the journals Science, Science Translational Medicine and Science Signaling — may draw as many as 8,500 attendees from 60 countries to Chicago. AAAS last met in Chicago in 2009, when the event drew 6,595 total attendees, including 757 newsroom registrants. In 2013, the conference in Boston drew 9,959 total attendees, including 5,365 general registrants, 3,647 Family Science Days participants, and 947 newsroom registrants.
For 2014, two free Family Science Days  — Saturday and Sunday, 15-16 February — will feature hands-on science-learning activities, plus a jam-packed "Meet the Scientists" speaker series designed especially for middle- and high-school students. Events will take place in the Hyatt Regency Chicago and Fairmont Chicago.
This year's conference theme, "Meeting Global Challenges: Discovery and Innovation," focuses on the importance of innovative breakthroughs in confronting society's most pressing problems. "Investments in innovations — including funding for education as well as basic and applied research — represent our best prospect for a sustainable environment and increased economic growth," said AAAS President Phillip A. Sharp , a noted molecular biologist who developed the meeting theme.
Sharp shared the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of "split genes," which contain both DNA-coding sections (exons) and non-coding sections (introns), and can play a role in hereditary diseases if splicing errors occur. Sharp serves as an Institute Professor within the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Since discovering that genes can be composed of separate segments within DNA, Sharp has focused on the therapeutic potential of RNA interference, small RNA molecules that can switch genes on and off. The co-founder of Biogen (now Biogen Idec) and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Sharp received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel will help to kick off a free public lecture by the AAAS president at 6:00 p.m. Thursday, 13 February in the Fairmont Chicago's Imperial Ballroom. Also offering remarks will be conference co-chairs Eric Isaacs, director of Argonne National Laboratory, Morton Schapiro, president of Northwestern University, and Robert J. Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago.
In the same location, former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu , professor of physics and molecular and cellular physiology at Stanford University, will discuss, "How Discovery and Innovation Can Meet Our Energy Challenge" at 5:00 p.m. Friday, 14 February. Chu is the co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Physics for his contributions to the laser cooling and trapping of atoms. Prior to his post in President Obama's Cabinet, he was the director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a professor at University of California, Berkeley.
At 5:00 p.m. Saturday, 15 February, actor, writer, and director Alan Alda , a visiting professor of journalism at Stony Brook University, will address, "Getting Beyond a Blind Date with Science."
On Sunday, 16 February at 5:00 p.m., MIT Biology Professor Susan Lindquist , a pioneer in understanding protein folding changes that relate to human disease, evolution, and nanotechnology, will report on the quest for insights to Parkinson's and Alzheimer's Diseases.
Another plenary will take place at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, 17 February. Speaker John A. Rogers , Swanlund chair and professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will discuss, "Stretchy Electronics that Dissolve in Your Body."
Follow the official hashtag on social media for updates from meeting attendees and staff.
Highlights from the 2014 AAAS Annual Meeting are expected to include these and many other breaking research news topics:
Reporters can contact AAAS to receive advance information about more than two-dozen embargoed press briefings and related social events for credentialed newsroom registrants.
Free Family Science Days  — scheduled for 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, 15-16 February in the Hyatt Regency Chicago, East Tower, Purple Level, Riverside Center — will include hands-on activities and stage shows for families with children, teenagers, and young adults. To attend, the public should plan to pick up a free badge at Family Science Days Registration, Hyatt Regency Chicago, East Tower, Green Level, next to the Concierge Desk. Or, register in advance via the website above.
Attendees will have the opportunity to:
In addition to free public offerings, registrants to the AAAS Annual Meeting will be able to sample a smorgasbord  of symposia covering more than 150 topics including climate change, energy, the environment, food, health, science policy, and more.
Topical and special-session lecturers will include thoughts on "the suffocation of marriage," by Eli Finkel  of Northwestern University; a discussion of "simple health solutions," by Trevor Mundel  of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and from Colorado State University, Diana H. Wall's  review of climate-change impacts on soil life.
Scientific sessions and seminars will explore science communication; the human brain; biology; physics and astronomy; energy and renewable resources; science-based farming; science education, an array of other topics.
The first AAAS Annual Meeting took place in 1848 in Philadelphia, Pa. Past meetings have featured U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; Microsoft's Bill Gates; the science ministers of the European Commission, Germany, the United Kingdom and Hungary; Nobelists Sherwood Rowland, Leon Lederman, Wolfgang Ketterle and many others.