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AAAS Pacific Division Meeting Features Work by Wildlife Forensics Lab

The 91st Annual Meeting of the AAAS Pacific Division will convene 13-17 June in Ashland, Oregon, with a program featuring talks on wolves, wildlife forensics, and watersheds and cultural events arranged by the local Native American student organization.

The meeting’s theme, “The Art of Science,” reflects how science and art offer complementary views of the natural world. In addition to the scientific content of the meeting, meeting attendees will have the opportunity to see artworks by 35 artists displayed in various campus buildings. The works include paintings, sculpture, and other art forms.

“Done well, scientific studies can be as deeply moving as a great sculpture or painting,” John Hafernik, president of the AAAS Pacific Division, wrote in his welcome letter to conference attendees. “On the other hand, great art can open doors to a deeper understanding of the world around us and challenge us in ways that are often novel and sometimes unpredictable.”

Southern Oregon University is a public liberal arts university, enrolling about 5100 students. Two other AAAS Pacific Division Annual Meetings—in 2000 and 2005—were held on the SOU campus. The campus is home to the world’s only federal wildlife forensic laboratory, which will be featured in a two-part symposium on 16 June.

The first part of the symposium, “Forensic Science: A Balance of Art and Science,” will play into the meeting’s theme. Speakers in the session will show how art is part of forensic analyses, such as using micro-analytical tools to reveal modern overpaintings on ancient biblical texts, using laser-based Raman spectroscopy in art restoration, identifying fake artworks, and understanding materials used by artists hundreds of years ago. Other speakers in the session will describe their work identifying types of ivory and feathers, which are studies done at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory in Ashland.

In “Wildlife Forensics,” the second part of the forensic symposium, speakers from the forensics laboratory will discuss their work with bird feathers, black coral, bald and golden eagles, antelope, ivory, and wolves. The forensic investigators use techniques including X-ray fluorescence and genetic markers to identify species and answer questions about how the specimens died and where they originated.

On 13 June, as the meeting opens, the university’s Native American Student Union will hold a salmon bake for meeting attendees. The students will offer a blessing for the meeting and perform native drumming.

“We’re trying to be sensitive to indigenous peoples in places where we hold our meetings, and try to get them involved in our meeting,” said Roger Christianson, executive director of the AAAS Pacific Division. Christianson is also a biology professor at Southern Oregon University.

Nearly 30 symposia, plenary and public lectures, poster sessions, and workshops comprise the 2010 Annual Meeting of the AAAS Pacific Division. In one of the plenary lectures, Cristina Eisenberg, a conservation biologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, will talk about the role of predatory wolves in regulating ecosystems. Her book The Wolf’s Tooth: Keystone Predators, Trophic Cascades, and Biodiversity, which was published in April, discusses food webs and how keystone predators—such as wolves, sea otters and sharks—exert a disproportionately strong influence over the ecosystems they live in. Eisenberg will speak on 14 June at 7 p.m..

Other meeting highlights include symposia on the anthropological approaches to environmental change and ecotoxicology, or the contamination of species’ habitats by toxicants such as pesticides.

The Pacific Division meeting will also showcase science education with two lectures that are free and open to the public. Amy Shachter will discuss the program “Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities.” Funded by the National Science Foundation, the program began in 2001 and seeks to improve undergraduate education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics by connecting those fields with real-life issues. Shachter is associate provost for research initiatives at Santa Clara University in California, and she will speak 14 June at 12:15 p.m.

Jay Vavra, an 11th grade biology teacher at High Tech High in San Diego, California, will give the other public lecture at the meeting. At 12:15 p.m. on 15 June, he will discuss “The Art of Biology and the Biology of Art: High Tech High Presentation of Learning.”

Open to meeting attendees, panelists in a 15 June workshop will discuss the effectiveness of advanced placement (AP) programs in high school. “They’re trying to initiate a discussion on whether all the time and effort that go into AP classes really benefit the students and the classrooms,” Christianson said. Panelists include educators at high schools and universities.

About 300 attendees—including faculty members and graduate, undergraduate and high school students—are expected to attend the 2010 meeting. “We always try to provide a venue for faculty and for other scientists and students to come and present the results of their research,” said Christianson, the Pacific Division’s executive director since 2002. “We provide an intellectually challenging environment, but at the same time it’s very relaxed and students have opportunities to talk to people who are well-known in their fields.”

Students who give oral or poster presentations have the chance to win awards for their work. “We like to see students come and get introduced to what scientific meetings are all about,” Christianson said. The student presentation awards, as well as student travel funds, are intended to encourage students to attend scientific meetings and discuss their scientific findings with colleagues.

The 2011 Annual Meeting of the AAAS Pacific Division will be held 12-15 June in San Diego, California. The meeting will also host the 7th World Mummy Congress.


Register now for the 91st Annual Meeting of the AAAS Pacific Division.

Get more details on the meeting, held this year in Ashland, Oregon.