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Artificial Intelligence, Human Gene-Editing Ethics, the Math of Gerrymandering, Infectious Disease in the Ocean, and More at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Seattle

A young girl wearing lab goggles
Two free Family Science Days on Saturday and Sunday, February 15-16 will feature hands-on science-learning activities, plus a Meet the Scientists speaker series designed especially for middle- and high-school students. | Anthony Brunner

The growing use of artificial intelligence in society, how math can help address political gerrymandering, the ethics of human gene-editing, and the spread of infectious disease among ocean organisms will be discussed at the 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting, the world’s largest general scientific conference.

During February 13-16 in Seattle, Washington, the 186th AAAS Annual Meeting will offer free public lectures and hands-on fun for families and a plethora of scientific and technical sessions for registrants. AAAS — publisher of the journals Science, Science Advances, Science Translational Medicine, Science Signaling, Science Robotics, and Science Immunology —anticipates up to 10,000 attendees at the conference.

Two free Family Science Days — 11:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, February 15-16 — will feature hands-on science-learning activities, plus a Meet the Scientists speaker series designed especially for middle- and high-school students. Family Science Days will take place at the Sheraton Grand Hotel.

The theme of this year’s conference, “Envisioning Tomorrow’s Earth,” was organized by AAAS President Steven Chu, professor of physics at Stanford University. “Scientific and technological research have been invaluable in developing ways of improving life on Earth,” Chu said. “At this Annual Meeting, we will consider how efforts and advances in science and technology can respond to new challenges, from both nature and the built world, faced by society.”

Chu currently serves as the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University. Prior to rejoining Stanford in 2013, Chu was appointed U.S. Secretary of Energy by President Barack Obama, the first scientist to head the Department of Energy, which includes 17 national laboratories. Chu has also served as director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and professor of physics and molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley. He first joined Stanford University in 1987, where he was a professor of physics until 2004.

Between 1978 and 1987, Chu worked at Bell Labs, where he ultimately led its Quantum Electronics Research Department. At Bell Labs, Chu carried out research on laser cooling and atom trapping, work that would earn him – along with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William Daniel Phillips – the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997. Their methods for using laser light to “trap” and slow down atoms to study them in greater detail “contributed greatly to increasing our knowledge of the interplay between radiation and matter,” the Nobel Committee said in 1997. Chu received bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physics from the University of Rochester and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley.

Free Public Lectures

The meeting will officially kickoff on Thursday, February 13 with the AAAS president’s lecture at 5:15 p.m. Public lectures will take place at the Washington State Convention Center, Level 4, Plenary Hall 4A.

On Friday, February 14 at 5:15 p.m., journalist and author Maryn McKenna will discuss “The Second Antibiotic Era.”

At 5:15 p.m. on Saturday, February 15, sociologist Alondra Nelson, president of the Social Science Research Council and Harold F. Linder Chair in Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, will present “The Social Life of DNA and the Need for a New Bioethics.”

Science News Opportunities

Highlights from the meeting will include these and many other breaking research news topics:

  • Assessing the extent of gerrymandering in political districts
  • The neuroscience of addiction
  • Using remote sensing and mapping technologies for food security
  • Digital life after death
  • Finding lost Einsteins and encouraging diversity in invention
  • Disease outbreaks in the ocean
  • Public health impacts of wildfire smoke
  • The ethics of human gene-editing research
  • Employing artificial intelligence to disrupt sex trafficking
  • And much more.

Reporters can register for the newsroom online to receive advance information on more than 20 embargoed press briefings and social events for credentialed newsroom registrants.

The news briefing lineup will kick off Thursday, February 13 with a reporters-only press breakfast hosted by AAAS President Steven Chu and AAAS CEO Sudip Parikh, followed by the release of new research from the journal Science.

Family Science Days

Free AAAS Family Science Days — scheduled for 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, February 15-16 at the Sheraton Grand Hotel — will include hands-on activities and stage shows for families with children, teenagers, and young adults. The schedule includes a sensory-friendly hour on Sunday, February 16 from 11:00 a.m. until noon. To attend the event, register online in advance. Walk-in registration is also available on-site.

Family Science Days participants will have the opportunity to:

  • Experience a mobile planetarium
  • Create science art
  • Read science books with award-winning authors
  • Make a model of the solar system that fits in your pocket
  • Build an artificial intelligence network
  • Ask scientists and engineers your questions

Scientific Program for Registrants

In addition to free public offerings, registrants to the AAAS Annual Meeting will be able to sample a diversity of symposia, town halls, film screenings and lectures covering more than 120 topics encompassing engineering and technology; communication, language and culture; climate and the environment; medicine and health; physics and astronomy; science education; and more.

Topical lectures will include discussions on indigenous science and collaborative practice by Alison Wylie of the University of British Columbia; ocean and climate solutions by Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State University; advances in artificial intelligence by Eric Horvitz of Microsoft Research; the neuroscience of early childhood development by Patricia Kuhl of the University of Washington; computation and crowdsourcing in astronautics by Moriba Jah of the University of Texas, Austin; transgender children and social cognition by Kristina Olson of the University of Washington; quantum cloud computing by Elham Kashefi of the University of Edinburgh; and geoengineering by David Keith of Harvard University.

Town hall meetings — which aim to connect and engage attendees with thought leaders across various areas of science, policy and society— will include balancing science with concerns about national security, addressing local policy challenges with science, the economics of climate change, developing ethical guidelines for science journalism, and more.

The full meeting program is available online.



Tiffany Lohwater

Chief Communications Officer

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