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Meeting News: Disease-Fighting Robots, Gene-Editing, Science Policy, More



The AAAS Annual Meeting offers opportunities to engage directly with science and technology leaders. AAAS CEO Rush Holt, third left, joins some of the participants in the 2016 meeting. | North Atlantic Photography

Unmanned autonomous vehicles designed to help combat the Zika virus, ethical and safety considerations related to new human gene-editing tools, advances in the fight against cancer and U.S. science policy following the presidential election will be a few of this year’s headlines at the world’s largest general scientific conference.

Free public lectures on honeybee colony collapse disorder and evidence-based policymaking, plus sessions on political polling strategies, the impacts of fake news, and fundamental neuroscience investigations that may someday help people with memory loss, drug addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder also promise news at the 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting.

Register Now!

Registration for credentialed journalists and public information officers can be found online via the AAAS Annual Meeting virtual newsroom on EurekAlert!. For all other meeting participants, general registration is also online. Discounted advance general registration will end on Jan. 27.

The 183rd AAAS Annual Meeting, set for 16-20 February in Boston, Mass., will offer free public lectures and hands-on fun for families as well as an array of technical sessions for registrants. AAAS — publisher of the journals Science, Science Translational Medicine, Science Signaling, Science Advances, Science Robotics, and Science Immunology — may draw up to 10,000 total attendees. In 2013, when AAAS last convened in Boston, the meeting drew 9,959 total attendees, including 5,365 general registrants, 3,647 Family Science Days participants and 947 newsroom registrants.

For 2017, the two free Family Science Days — 11:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 18-19 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. For details, see Events will take place in Boston’s Hynes Convention Center.

The theme of this year’s conference, “Serving Society through Science Policy,” was set forth by AAAS President Barbara A. Schaal, who serves as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor of Biology at Washington University in St. Louis. “To make decisions, societies rely on knowledge and multiple perspectives,” Schaal said. “Policies both within and outside science should be informed by the best available evidence. Science alone cannot translate knowledge into viable policy options; other factors include societal norms and cultural values.”

A biologist, Schaal was among the first plant scientists to use molecular biology-based approaches to understand evolutionary processes in plants and she has worked to advance understanding of plants’ molecular systems and population genetics. Her recent work has included investigating the evolutionary genetics of plants in hopes of enriching crops such as cassava and rice. President Barack Obama appointed Schaal to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in 2009 and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appointed her as one of three new science envoys in 2012 to advise the White House, the Department of State and the U.S. scientific community about insights gained from travels and interactions abroad.

Free Public Lectures

The 2017 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston, America’s largest general scientific conference, may draw up to 10,000 total attendees. | Credit: North Atlantic Photography

Meeting co-chair and president of Brown University Christina Paxson will kick off a public lecture by the AAAS president at 6:00 p.m. Thursday, 16 February in the Hynes Convention Center, Ballroom BC.

In the same spot at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, 17 February, Naomi Oreskes, professor of the history of science at Harvard University will offer a plenary lecture on “The Scientist as Sentinel.”

At 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, 18 February, entomologist May Berenbaum, professor and department head of entomology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and a National Medal of Science winner, will answer the question, “Can Science Save the Honey Bees?”

On Sunday, 19 February at 5:00 p.m., Sylvester James Gates Jr., the John S. Toll Professor of Physics and Director of the Center for Particle Theory at the University of Maryland, will discuss “Science and Evidence-Based Policymaking.”

Science News Opportunities

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

  • CRISPR human-gene editing tools and questions
  • Robot-enabled technology for combating Zika
  • Poop and dirt – the war on microbes
  • Rehabilitative robotics
  • U.S. science policy following the presidential election
  • How does fake news impact social media and society?
  • Time, memory and the brain
  • Gravitational waves
  • Updates from the BRAIN Initiative
  • Building machines with cells
  • Fighting oral health disparities
  • Using highly charged particles to combat cancer
  • Overcoming implicit bias in science
  • Research to better understand and potentially curb gun violence
  • And much more.

Reporters can contact AAAS to receive advance information about more than two-dozen embargoed press briefings and related social events for credentialed newsroom registrants.

The news briefing lineup will kick off Thursday, 16 February with a reporters-only press breakfast hosted by AAAS President Barbara Schaal, followed by the release of new content from the Science family of journals.

Meet the Scientists During Family Science Days

PHOTO / TV OPPORTUNITIES (Downloadable Video Available)

Free AAAS Family Science Days — organized in partnership with the Cambridge Science Festival and scheduled for 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, 18-19 February in the Hynes Convention Center — will include hands-on activities and stage shows for families with children, teenagers, and young adults. To attend, register in advance via the website above. Walk-in registration is also available on-site.

Family Science Days participants will have the opportunity to:

  • Drive a robot
  • Engineer a coastal ecosystem to be resilient as the sea level rises
  • Touch a brain tissue sample
  • Use forensic science to solve mysteries
  • Learn about weather and climate
  • Explore the science of language
  • Conduct their own experiments
  • Meet scientists and engineers.

Scientific Program for Registrants

In addition to free public offerings, registrants to the AAAS Annual Meeting will be able to sample a smorgasbord of symposia, seminars and lectures covering more than 150 topics encompassing agriculture and food; anthropology, culture and language; climate change; medical sciences and public health; physics and astronomy; scientific reproducibility and other topics.

Topical lectures will include insights on human gene-editing by Alta Charo of the University of Wisconsin, Madison; a discussion of the “Potential and Risks of Recent Developments in Biotechnology,” by Royal Society President and Nobel Prize winner Venki Ramakrishnan; a look at global energy challenges and solutions, by Daniel Norcera of Harvard University; Hoku Labs Founder Leila Takayama’s vision for a more “Human-Centered Future” in the field of robotics; explorations of “Bipedal Diversity in Early Human Ancestors,” by Jeremy DeSilva of Dartmouth College; and more. The full meeting program is online.

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MEDIA NOTE: Credentialed journalists and public information officers are strongly urged to register in advance online. On-site registration for journalists opens at 7:00 a.m. on Thursday, 16 February, in the Hynes Convention Center, Room 101. Bring your photo ID and proof of credentials and review our press credentialing guidelines in advance. The AAAS President’s press breakfast will begin at 7:45 a.m. on 16 February, followed by the first news briefing at 9:00 a.m. Additional information on AAAS Annual Meeting news offerings can be provided in advance to reporters who ensure adherence to the embargo policy. Embargoed news will be available to reporters via the AAAS virtual newsroom, online at EurekAlert!, beginning Monday, 13 February. For additional information, newsroom registrants can contact Amanda Johnson, abjohnson [at]

This news release contains only general, publicly available information about this year’s program, and is therefore appropriate for immediate release.

About AAAS

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science as well as Science Translational Medicine, Science Signaling, a digital, open-access journal, Science Advances, Science Immunology, and Science Robotics. AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes nearly 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world. The non-profit AAAS is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement, and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.

[Associated image: In addition to scientific sessions on some 150 topics, the AAAS Annual Meeting will include poster sessions for students and two free Family Science Days featuring fun, hands-on science. | Credit: North Atlantic Photography.]