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Thousands of Scientists to Convene in Vancouver, B.C., for 2012 AAAS Annual Meeting

Nina V. Fedoroff

It is a question that frames the 21st century scientific enterprise: As the world population moves toward 9 billion, will it be possible to provide food, water, and energy for everyone without dangerously depleting natural resources and damaging the environment? These challenges will be the focus of the 178th AAAS Annual Meeting, which convenes from 16-20 February in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The meeting will feature thousands of top scientists, engineers, educators, policymakers, and science journalists from some 50 nations and a full spectrum of disciplines. More than 170 plenary addresses, lectures, seminars, and symposia—plus more than two dozen briefings and interview sessions for reporters—are scheduled under the theme “Flattening the World: Building a Global Knowledge Society.”

“The theme… is intended to focus the program on the complex, interconnected challenges of the 21st century and on pathways to global solutions through international, multidisciplinary efforts,” said AAAS President Nina V. Fedoroff in her letter of invitation.

James Hansen

The program will be rich and ambitious: Daily plenary addresses and panels featuring international science leaders such as climate expert James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and Frans B. M. de Waal , the Dutch behavioral biologist and author known for his work on the social intelligence of primates. Lectures by influential researchers in topics ranging from water security and volcanism to molecular motors and the genetic revolution. Full-day seminars featuring international panels of researchers focused on climate change in northern latitudes, understanding the universe, and the potential future impact of biology. Symposia tracks from a broad spectrum of disciplines, with special attention on energy, food security, communication, education, development, and international collaboration,

The AAAS Annual Meeting also will feature the traditional Family Science Days, free and open to the public, on Saturday and Sunday, 18-19 February. Hands-on activities will focus on alien planets, sea creatures, rocketry, and other areas, and kids (along with their parents) will have the chance to meet and talk with scientists.

The meeting formally opens Thursday evening 16 February with Fedoroff’s presidential address. Other plenary speakers and presentations during the meeting will be:

  • Mike Lazaridis

    Mike Lazaridis, vice chair of the Research In Motion (RIM) Board of Directors; founder and board chair, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. The topic of his talk on Friday 17 February will be “The Power of Ideas.”

  • Olivia Judson

    Science is Not Enough, a Saturday 18 February panel on communicating science on sometimes-difficult science and policy issues. The panelists will be Hansen, who also holds an appointment as adjunct professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University; journalist and author Olivia Judson, an honorary research fellow at Imperial College London; Hans Rosling, professor of international health at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and director of the Gapminder Foundation; and award-winning journalist Frank Sesno, professor and director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University.

  • Frans B. M. de Waal, the C. H. Candler Professor of Psychology and director of the Living Links Center, Yerkes Primate Center, at Emory University. De Waal, whose work draws parallels between primate and human behavior, will be speaking Monday morning 20 February on the topic: “Good Natured: From Primate Social Instincts to Human Morality.”

2012 marks the first AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver—there have been seven other meetings in Canada, starting with Montreal in 1857—and this one will have a strong focus on Canada, the Arctic, and the northeastern Pacific Ocean.

Canadian Senator Lillian Eva Dyck

Lazaridis, for example, was born in Turkey but grew up in Ontario; he will be one of many Canadian speakers at the meeting. Among the others will be Canadian Senator Lillian Eva Dyck, a neuroscientist, educator, and member of the Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan; her topical lecture is entitled “The Medicine Wheel and Western Science.” Steve MacLean, president of the Canadian Space Agency, will lecture on international collaboration in science and engineering.

The AAAS Annual Meeting will feature extensive career activities for students as well as professionals and the general public, with nearly 20 career development workshops focused on career enhancement, communication, management resources, and personal development.

Among many special events for meeting registrants will be pre-conference tours of the most prominent centers of innovation, technology, and research in and around Vancouver. Topics include particle and nuclear physics, clean energy, breakthroughs in medical technologies, and innovative solutions to urban social concerns. (Advance registration is required.)

Registered news reporters and editors from more than two dozen countries are expected at the meeting. The AAAS Office of Public Programs has organized an array of news briefings that offer access to leading researchers in fields ranging from ocean health and climate change to child development and futuristic methods of producing meat.

Reporters are also invited to a pre-meeting tour of North America’s greenest building, the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability at the University of British Columbia, and the university’s Beaty Biodiversity Museum and Research Centre, home to Canada’s largest blue whale exhibit.

Early registration rates for the meeting are available until Thursday 9 February. During the meeting, the site will serve as a portal for Annual Meeting news from ScienceNow, Science Update,, AAAS MemberCentral, and EurekAlert! The AAAS Facebook page and Twitter (#AAASmtg) also will feature news from Vancouver.

Edward W. Lempinen

23 January 2012