Every year, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) names its newest Fellows: researchers from around the world who have been nominated by their peers for their outstanding scientific work. Fellows are recognized for achievements across disciplines, from research and teaching to technology and administration. This year, 10 Rutgers faculty members were honored with the title, two of whom hail from the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences: Henry B. John-Alder of the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, and Pal Maliga of the Department of Plant Biology.
These newest Fellows are two in a 22-strong contingent of AAAS Fellows at the School. Joining this elite club means they gain access to annual programs and meetings, from speeches and symposia to conferences and other events. It also places them squarely within a network of exceptional scientists. But for SEBS, having such a strong representation of Fellows is a recognition of excellence as a school, especially because the majority of nominations for an individual must originate from members not affiliated with the nominee’s institution.
“One thing this means is that we have a strong contingent of senior faculty who are widely recognized across the nation as having done distinguished work, and it’s a select group,” says Executive Dean Bob Goodman. “The other significant point that this speaks to is the breadth of excellence in the School, having been recognized across various areas like microbiology, atmospheric sciences, ocean studies, agriculture, environmental sociology, and others.”
Goodman estimates that about eight percent of the association’s total membership have been recognized as AAAS Fellows. At our School, that percentage jumps to about 10—a bit above the national average. And it’s no coincidence, as over the course of the past 10 years, SEBS has made significant investments in the faculty, allowing each professor and researcher to pursue the kind of work worthy of recognition by organizations like AAAS.
“It starts the day that we issue an announcement of an opening for faculty recruitment, and it’s an ongoing academic lifetime process that we try to provide from that point on,” says Goodman of the School’s commitment to faculty support.
Indeed, its investment in its faculty begins with startup packages to get new professors and researchers up and running in the lab—often including a budget to renovate lab spaces—and pairing new hires with a mentor, particularly in their pre-tenure years. But it doesn’t end there. In order to facilitate grant applications, the School recently opened a special office that helps faculty hone their federal grant-writing skills to earn funding from Faculty 07 explorations Photography by John O’Boyle. Achievement, Acclaim, and the federal and other agencies. “We also do our best to create an academic and scholarly community, recruiting excellent students for them to teach,” Goodman adds. “Of course, all of this is a big investment, but it’s at the core of what we do.
The result? More than 100 new hires over the course of the past 10 years, with about half of those new hires being women. “We have made a major reinvestment in faculty over the last decade,” says Goodman. “That changes the context for everyone already here and enriches the environment for everyone.”
What is the AAAS?
AAAS is a nonprofit organization that dates back to the 1800s. On paper, its goal is to advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world. In practice, it does so by enhancing communication among its members, strengthening support for the sciences, promoting science in public policy, diversifying the workforce, publishing a family of scientific journals, and more. Its membership hails from nearly 100 countries.
In order to become a Fellow, AAAS members must be nominated by either the association’s steering groups, the CEO, or any three previously elected Fellows as long as two of the three are not affiliated with the nominee’s institution. Fellows must have been an AAAS member for four years, and they’re considered based on their top 10 most significant publications, CVs, and letters of recommendation. To become a Fellow, nominees must ultimately receive a majority vote by the steering committee.
Meet the Newest Members
Pal Maliga – Department of Plant Biology and the Waksman Institute of Microbiology
Pal Maliga’s (pictured left) research focuses on plastids, double-membraned organelles found in plant cells that are necessary for a range of life processes. The best-known plastids—chloroplasts—convert sunlight into chemical energy.
In the 1990s, Maliga and his team at Rutgers developed the technology of chloroplast transformation in tobacco plants, which uniformly alters thousands of plastid genome copies in a cell. This has led to an explosion of research concerning the chloroplast genome’s role in photosynthesis, functional analysis of plastid genes by reverse genetics, and mechanisms of plastid gene regulation.
“It sounds very abstract but it’s become very important because this is the key to engineering photosynthesis,” Maliga explains. “What photosynthesis does is convert sunlight energy into biomass. This conversion is what sustains life on Earth.” Maliga estimates that if there are currently about 7.5 billion people on Earth and by 2050 there will be about 9.5 billion people, we need to produce twice the amount of grain we do now in order to live better and eat meat amidst a population boom. “To achieve this without increasing the land under cultivation,” he explains, “we need to improve the efficiencies of crops to transform sunlight into biomass.” Indeed, the ultimate goal is to replace native chloroplast DNA with engineered forms and add in new functions to enhance crop productivity for future generations.
Henry B. John-Alder – Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources
A self-described evolutionary and ecological physiologist, Henry John-Alder’s (pictured right) research is generally focused on how animals manage to work and succeed, how they maintain themselves and reproduce in the face of environmental challenges, and how they have evolved to meet these challenges over time.
His most highly cited work surrounds the effects of temperature on the exercise capacities of animals. According to John-Alder, animals either need to maintain a fairly constant temperature or have mechanisms to cope with variations. One of the strategies that evolved is warm-bloodedness, or using metabolism to generate heat and maintain a constant warm temperature. The downside is that this is very expensive energetically and requires that animals eat a large volume of food. Cold-blooded animals, on the other hand, were the subject of John-Alder’s work, in which he examined why even they prefer to be active at a warmer temperature.
He has since turned his attention to the way hormones regulate energy and impact body size in lizards and is involved in a large-scale genomic analysis of testosterone’s impact on growth. And most of the work he’s done has been right in Rutgers’ home state of New Jersey, in the Pinelands. ”There’s something about the environment of the lab versus the field that changes the responsiveness to hormonal manipulation,” he says. “A lab is advantageous because you can, obviously, control anything you want. But in the lab you cannot replicate mother nature, which causes animals to respond differently. My feeling is that if you want to know how animals respond, you need to analyze them in the field where they live.”
AAAS at SEBS
Tamar Barkay – Biochemistry & Microbiology
Joan Bennett – Plant Biology
Tony Broccoli – Environmental Sciences
Joanna Burger – Ecology, Evolution, & Natural Resources
Randy Gaugler – Entomology
Bob Goodman – Executive Dean, Ecology, Evolution, & Natural Resources
Judy Grassle – Marine & Coastal Sciences
Steven Handel – Ecology, Evolution, & Natural Resources
Bingru Huang – Plant Biology
Henry John-Alder – Ecology, Evolution, & Natural Resources
Pal Maliga – Plant Biology
Bonnie McCay – Human Ecology
Peter Morin – Ecology, Evolution, & Natural Resources
Karl Nordstrom – Marine & Coastal Sciences
David Pramer – Biochemistry & Microbiology
Alan Robock – Environmental Sciences
Mark Robson – Plant Biology
Tom Rudel – Human Ecology
Jim White – Plant Biology
Lily Young – Environmental Sciences
Barbara Zilinskas – Plant Biology
Gerben Zylstra – Biochemistry & Microbiology
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Explorations Spring 2017.