Science & Research

Four faculty members named science fellows

By
Staff Writer

Four faculty members were selected as 2012 fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science last month. Provost Mark Schlissel P’15, Professor of Medical Science Julie Kauer, Professor of Computer Science Roberto Tamassia and writer-in-residence Cornelia Dean ’69 will be recognized along with 697 other new fellows at the AAAS annual meeting in Boston this upcoming February.

Over the years, 45 members of the Brown community have been named fellows, according to Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations.

“I’ve been a member for many, many years,” Schlissel said, adding that members have not necessarily been nominated for fellowships. “Each year, they pick out a small subset of their membership to recognize for career-long contributions to science, and that’s why I was honored. I was very flattered.” 

Schlissel is being awarded for his work in lymphocyte development. 

“I have been running a research lab studying the developmental biology of the immune system for over 20 years,” Schlissel said. “I’ve trained over 20 PhD students who have gotten their degrees working on these projects and collaborations with me.”

Kauer received the AAAS fellowship in recognition of her contributions to neurophysiology. She said she began her work 25 years ago, fascinated by how the brain stores information. In the last 15 years, Kauer said her work has shifted, moving to synapses in the brain. 

“My work, in the simplest form, is how synapses in the brain get stronger or weaker and persist that way,” Kauer said. 

In particular, Kauer studies the reward and reinforcement part of the brain. There is strong evidence an animal that is given an addictive drug once experiences synapse changes the next day, she said. Her work examines the relationship of this synapse change to drug addiction.

Tamassia’s fellowship is in honor of his contributions to algorithms and data structures in the computer science field, he said. Tamassia currently serves as the chair of the Department of Computer Science and is also the director of the Center for Geometric Computing. 

“I was proud of the recognition,” Tamassia said. “Especially because the citation mentions my research work and my educational contributions as an author of textbooks.” According to Tamassia, his textbooks have been used by first-year courses in universities worldwide. 

Prior to her work as a science writer and editor at the New York Times, Dean graduated from Brown and worked for the Providence Journal. 

“I’ve written a couple of books and I’ve written articles for the newspaper and I’ve also, over the years, done a fair amount of teaching,” Dean said. “I got the opportunity to come here as writer-in-residence, and I’m really enjoying it.”

The AAAS has awarded Dean for her work in journalism and teaching. She said she will be presenting at the annual meeting in Boston and is an organizer for the meeting’s all-day program, “The Communication of Science to the Lay Public.” Dean has attended the annual meeting prior to having received the AAAS fellowship and is eager to hear this year’s research presentations. 

“At the meeting, people from all different kinds of fields give presentations on their work,” Dean said. “And I always enjoy that meeting, because you can just go from room to room in a convention center and someone’s always talking about something interesting.”

The AAAS is a nonprofit organization that serves to advance the sciences on both a national and international level. Receiving the AAAS fellowship is a testament to one’s life’s work and research, many of this year’s honorees said. 

“It means the respect of my peers,” Schlissel said. “And the fact that they’re recognizing me for my career-long set of accomplishments, which I take great pride in. It’s nice to be recognized.”