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Incoming AAAS Leshner Fellows Focus on Human Augmentation

The 2019-20 Fellows Will Engage Diverse Audiences About Exoskeletons, Gene Therapy and Brain Stimulation, Among Other Topics

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The incoming AAAS Leshner Fellows carry out research in the field of human augmentation, which studies technologies that attempt to temporarily or permanently change the capabilities of the human body. | Courtesy of pictured

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has selected 10 researchers in the area of human augmentation as the 2019-2020 AAAS Alan I. Leshner Leadership Institute Public Engagement Fellows. These scientists and engineers were chosen for having demonstrated leadership and excellence in their research careers and an interest in promoting meaningful dialogue between science and society.

The incoming AAAS Leshner Fellows work in a diverse range of disciplines, including aerospace engineering, bioethics, biomedical engineering, chemistry, computer science, biological anthropology, psychiatry and behavioral sciences and synthetic biology. The researchers are part of the field of human augmentation, which studies technologies that attempt to temporarily or permanently change the capabilities of the human body. Their work varies widely, from assistive technologies and wearable sensors to tattooing and antibiotics.

“The focus of this year’s fellowship on ‘human augmentation’ is particularly timely for me given the rapid advancements in human brain-machine interface that are just over the horizon,” said Kafui Dzirasa, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University.

The fellows’ public engagement interests and approaches are also diverse and include online blogs, videos and discussions as well as traditional and social media, podcasts, documentaries, books, policy engagement, K-12 outreach and public science events and competitions. In addition to engaging the public in two-way dialogue about their research through such activities, they also will promote public engagement among their scientific colleagues and within their institutions.

“I hope my efforts will help encourage evidence-based policymaking for ethically contentious new biomedical technologies,” said Aaron Levine, associate professor of public policy at Georgia Institute of Technology.

“As a female engineer, I want to be a visible role model for young girls to know that they can excel in STEAM domains,” said Leia Stirling, assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I would like to learn additional skills to engage with my local community and beyond.”

The AAAS Leshner Fellows will meet in June 2019 at AAAS headquarters in Washington, D.C. for a week of intensive public engagement and science communication training, networking and public engagement plan development. In the following year, the fellows will use these tools and networks to increase the impact of their engagement activities and their capacity for public engagement leadership. AAAS staff provide ongoing support and continuing professional development throughout their fellowship year.

Jin Montclare, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at New York University, intends to use the fellowship to learn more about how policy decisions are made for research, so that she can help educate the next generation of entrepreneurs, while Christopher Lynn, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama, says he will “use what I learn through the Leshner Leadership Institute to encourage institutions to support outreach as integral to research and teaching.”

The AAAS Leshner Fellows program is in its fourth year and is part of the organization’s long-standing and still-growing commitment to science communication and public engagement.

The Leshner Leadership Institute was established in 2015 through philanthropic support. The Institute is managed by the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology, established in 2004 by Alan I. Leshner, now chief executive officer emeritus of AAAS.

The 2019-2020 AAAS Leshner Fellows are (full bios are available on our website):

  • Tracey du Laney, Ph.D.director of science and technology development, North Carolina Biotechnology Center
  • Kafui Dzirasa, Ph.D., M.D.associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Duke University
  • Samira Kiani, M.D.assistant professor of biological and health systems engineering, Arizona State University
  • Aaron Levine, Ph.D.associate professor of public policy, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Christopher D. Lynn, Ph.D.associate professor of anthropology, University of Alabama
  • Oge Marques, Ph.D.professor of computer science and engineering, Florida Atlantic University
  • Jin Kim Montclare, Ph.D.professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, New York University
  • Robert Riener, Ph.D.professor for sensory-motor systems, ETH Zurich
  • Leia Stirling, Ph.D.assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Bill Wuest, Ph.D.distinguished investigator and associate professor of chemistry, Emory University