Skip to main content

Five early career scholars distinguish themselves at the 2024 AAAS Annual Meeting

Five early career researchers were recognized for their work as recipients of the Joshua E. Neimark Memorial Travel Assistance Award. From Idaho to New Jersey, and from biology to bioengineering, the award recipients represented a broad swath of geographical locations and fields of study. The award provided financial support for recipients to present research posters at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Denver this past February. 

Francis Asare
Francis Asare

Francis Asare, Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University

A high school STEMM student just asked you about your AAAS Annual Meeting poster. What would you say?

I highlighted biochar production from agricultural residues using selected user-friendly kiln technologies. Biochar is a fascinating material produced through a process called pyrolysis. Imagine it as a type of charcoal made by heating organic materials (like wood or agricultural waste) in a low-oxygen environment. During pyrolysis, the carbon in these materials transforms into biochar which is a stable solid, rich in carbon, and can endure in soil for thousands of years. It has potential benefits: improving soil fertility, enhancing nutrient availability, aiding water filtration and captures carbon. Biochar is nature’s secret soil enhancer! Making good biochar is like baking a cake. You need the right oven (kiln), the right ingredients (feedstocks), and the right recipe (knowledge of how to control air flow and handle the materials) to get the best result. My research helps us understand which "ovens" and "ingredients" work best for making biochar effectively and sustainably.

Which of these AAAS strategic goals speaks to you and why? 1) Advance scientific excellence and achievement; 2) Foster equity and inclusion for scientific excellence; 3) Build trust among scientists and communities; 4) Catalyze progress where science meets policy.

"Build trust among scientists and communities" is essential because it fosters a collaborative environment where scientific findings and innovations can be effectively communicated and implemented. Trust ensures that the public feels confident in the reliability and integrity of scientific research, leading to greater acceptance and support for scientific recommendations and policies. When communities trust scientists, they are more likely to participate in and support research initiatives, adhere to public health guidelines, and adopt new technologies. Moreover, trust helps in bridging the gap between scientific knowledge and societal needs, enabling scientists to better understand community concerns and values. This mutual respect and understanding facilitate the co-creation of solutions that are both scientifically sound and socially acceptable, ultimately contributing to societal progress and well-being.

What does winning this award mean to you?

Winning the award represents a significant achievement and opportunity in my academic and professional journey. It signifies recognition and support from the scientific community for my research contributions and potential as an early career scholar. The award not only provided the financial means to attend the prestigious AAAS conference, it also facilitated my active participation in a global forum of science and innovation. I could present my work, network with leading experts and peers, and gain exposure to the latest advancements and discussions in my field. And the access to additional resources offered by the Association enhanced my professional development, knowledge, and opportunities for collaboration. This award marks a pivotal moment that can significantly impact my career trajectory by broadening my academic network, enriching my research perspectives, and fostering growth within the scientific community.

A woman in a lab coat.
Aline Hoang

Aline Hoang, Medicine, Drexel University College of Medicine

A high school STEMM student just asked you about your AAAS Annual Meeting poster. What would you say?

I'm thrilled that you are interested in learning more about Implementation Science! My project focuses on Operating Room to Intensive Care Unit handoff standardization to help reduce patient harm during moments of transition. I am happy to share more details on the objectives, methodologies, and impact if you are interested.

Which of these AAAS strategic goals speaks to you and why? 1) Advance scientific excellence and achievement; 2) Foster equity and inclusion for scientific excellence; 3) Build trust among scientists and communities; 4) Catalyze progress where science meets policy.

AAAS's strategic goal to advance scientific excellence and achievement is one of the many reasons why this meeting can be so influential to young students. By providing the opportunity for students to share their research at a hub for intellectual exchange, students are encouraged to discuss with other scientists at the top of their field, look at their hypotheses from different perspectives, and learn how each project can complement others to drive innovation and collaboration.

What does winning this award mean to you?

Receiving the Neimark award was very meaningful to me, symbolizing not just financial support but an affirmation of my dedication to contributing meaningfully to the scientific community. It opened doors to networking with fellow scientists across the country and has inspired me to strive to amplify my footprint in Implementation Science. There is nothing more encouraging in the academic world than to be recognized for my potential to make meaningful contributions to the scientific community.

White woman in a black tee.
Katie Mossburg

Katie Mossburg, Bioengineering, University of Pennsylvania

A high school STEMM student just asked you about your AAAS Annual Meeting popster. What would you say?

The central idea of my poster is developing new methods to synthesize nanoparticles at a large-scale. The lab I work in has developed nanoparticles that can be used as highly effective contrast agents to improve medical imaging, but in order to use them in a clinical setting, we have to also work on high throughput methods for synthesizing them. My poster shows one method for doing this alongside data that confirms that the nanoparticles we produce with this method are the same quality as those we produced with our small batch methods.

Which of these AAAS strategic goals speaks to you and why? 1) Advance scientific excellence and achievement; 2) Foster equity and inclusion for scientific excellence; 3) Build trust among scientists and communities; 4) Catalyze progress where science meets policy.   

Although each of these goals is important, I am most personally motivated to work on catalyzing progress where science meets policy. Too often, we see policy decisions being made without the relevant science being included or scientists guiding the decision-making process. Because of this, it's so important for scientists to learn how to be involved in this process and help promote the change we wish to see. I am committed to developing these skills myself and helping other scientists do the same!

What does winning this award mean to you?

First and foremost, I am grateful to AAAS and the Neimark family for this generous award and to be recognized alongside such distinguished awardees. I am inspired to continue working towards the strategic goals AAAS has put forward and I learned so much about how I can progress towards more inclusive, transparent, and excellent science through my attendance at the conference. I am honored by this acknowledgement of my work to date and look forward to continuing to make a positive impact in the future.

A woman in a lab coat.
Ailen Garcia Santillan

Ailen Garcia Santillan, Human and Molecular Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University

A high school STEMM student just asked you about your AAAS Annual Meeting poster. What would you say?

A majority of cancer-related deaths are due to metastatic disease, which is why it’s important to study how tumor cells leave their primary sites, migrate, and establish in new sites in the body. For tumor cells to thrive, they must create a pro-tumor environment. We’ve studied cancer as if the tumor cells were working on their own, but now we can appreciate the complex ecosystem in which they reside—the tumor microenvironment (TME). The TME is composed of cancer cells, immune cells, blood vessels, the extracellular matrix (ECM), and other supportive cells. The breast TME is highly immunosuppressive, meaning the anti-tumor immune responses are strongly subdued—this is a huge obstacle towards harnessing the immune system as a therapy. A major feature of this immunosuppressive environment is the accumulation of regulatory T (Treg) cells. Treg cells are potent suppressors of the immune system, and in some solid tumors the accumulation of Treg cells correlates with poor clinical outcomes. I investigate if Treg cells influence tumor cell growth and metastasis, using genetic mouse models in which we can deplete Treg cells.

Which of these AAAS strategic goals speaks to you and why? 1) Advance scientific excellence and achievement; 2) Foster equity and inclusion for scientific excellence; 3) Build trust among scientists and communities; 4) Catalyze progress where science meets policy.

An interesting question! I believe these four goals are intertwined, and at their core encapsulate the importance of inclusion in science. For me, inclusivity in science means fostering a community in which the free exchange of ideas goes beyond perceived barriers—whether they be cultural, socioeconomic, linguistic, disciplinary, level of expertise, etc. I strongly believe that bringing people together with different life experiences provides an array of innovative ideas to the table. When we’re able to overcome these barriers and embrace the diversity of thought in our scientific pursuits, the science can truly flourish. Furthermore, I think scientific inclusivity should go beyond our scientific circles—by building relationships with the communities we seek to serve. It’s imperative to build that level of trust, and to understand the unique needs of our communities, which should ultimately tailor how we do our science to meet those needs. Last, we must work alongside policymakers to cultivate scientific equity and inclusion (access to education, opportunity, etc.), to propel science forward.

What does winning this award mean to you?

It is an honor and privilege to receive this award. Receiving this award means a few things to me. First, it shows me that our group’s work is acknowledged and valued. Also, I appreciate that this award allowed me to communicate my research amongst a broader scientific and non-scientific audience, which ultimately provided me with feedback on how to continue working on my scientific communication skills. This award also allowed me to network with brilliant minds across various disciplines, and different levels of expertise. Last, receiving this award makes me feel seen as an URM early career scientist—it reminds me that my work, ideas, and voice are valued in our scientific community. 

Akorede Seriki by Christopher J. Marx
Akorede Seriki / Christopher J. Marx

Akorede Seriki, Biology, University of Idaho

A high school STEMM student just asked you about your AAAS Annual Meeting poster. What would you say?

Think about how millions of years ago giant plants and creatures thrived on Earth. When they died, their remains turned into fossil fuels, like oil and gas. These fuels are running out and burning them contributes to pollution that's bad for the planet. We need cleaner, renewable energy sources, like biofuels which come from plants. One part of plants, called lignin, is often thrown away, but it can be turned into useful energy. My research focuses on using bacteria to turn lignin-derived products into biofuels. But there's a problem: when lignin breaks down, it releases chemicals that are toxic to the bacteria, like formaldehyde. I'm studying ways to help the bacteria deal with this toxicity, so they can be efficient in turning lignin-derived chemicals into biofuels.

Which of these AAAS strategic goals speaks to you and why? 1) Advance scientific excellence and achievement; 2) Foster equity and inclusion for scientific excellence; 3) Build trust among scientists and communities; 4) Catalyze progress where science meets policy.  

As a woman of color in STEM, fostering equity and inclusion for scientific excellence is particularly meaningful to me because it directly addresses the barriers and biases that marginalized groups often face in the field. By championing diversity and creating inclusive environments, this strategic goal of AAAS acknowledges and seeks to rectify systemic inequalities, ultimately enabling individuals like me to thrive and contribute fully to scientific progress. This goal resonates with me because it recognizes the importance of diverse perspectives in driving innovation and solving complex problems. By actively promoting equity and inclusion, we can create a more welcoming and supportive space for underrepresented groups, fostering a stronger and more dynamic scientific community for all.

What does winning this award mean to you?

Winning the award was an extraordinary honor for me as an early career scholar, and I am deeply grateful for it. Beyond the financial support, this award meant that the significance and potential of my research to make a real difference in the scientific community was recognized. By winning this award and consequently being a part of the vibrant atmosphere of the AAAS meeting, I had the thrilling opportunity to showcase my work, engage with fellow scientists, further my professional development within the scientific community, and gain insights that could shape the trajectory of my career.

Image: Christopher J. Marx (PI); Funding Agency: Department of Energy

Author

Betty Calinger

Senior Project Director

Related Focus Areas

Related Scientific Disciplines