Public Engagement

Through highly accessible meetings and outreach events,
AAAS helped to make the world of science accessible to all in 2012.


The value of positive interaction between the scientific community and the general public cannot be underestimated. Progress toward solving some of our world’s most critical problems depends equally on the innovations of science and the ability of science experts to communicate and gain public support for their findings. AAAS, through its sophisticated yet highly accessible Annual Meeting, its extensive participation in science events for the public, and its varied public outreach programs, helps to make the world of science accessible to all.

2012 AAAS Annual Meeting

Award-winning journalist Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University moderated “Science is Not Enough,” an interactive science communication event featuring Hans Rosling, James Hansen and Olivia Judson. [AAAS]

Held in Vancouver, British Columbia, the 2012 AAAS Annual Meeting urged the scientific community to reach out, across national borders and diverse belief systems, to help develop and gain support for solutions to the world’s most urgent problems. AAAS President Nina Fedoroff emphasized that scientists in developed and developing nations must collaborate to combat problems such as the threat of widespread hunger as the world’s population grows and climate change endangers the Earth’s limited supply of arable land. New ways to reach the public through traditional and online media on issues such as climate change headlined a plenary event presented by a panel of renowned science communicators. Other presentations focused on wide-ranging subjects, from carbon storage to synthetic hamburgers, to the lag in women’s participation in the science and engineering workforce and leadership positions.

The Meeting’s Family Science Days brought more than 6,387 attendees who enjoyed exploring alien planets, sea creatures and rocketry at table-top laboratories, as well as meeting and talking with scientists. The 2012 meeting also drew 4,420 general delegates and 760 journalists, bringing the total attendance to 11,567 attendees.

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Family Science Days drew more than 6,387 attendees to the 2012 AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver, B.C. [Jesse Karras]

USA Science & Engineering Festival

AAAS provided thousands of jelly beans—and a memorable learning experience about how taste and smell interact—at the second USA Science & Engineering Festival, the nation’s largest science festival, of which AAAS is a founding partner. The giant, colorful 3-D models of a mouth, nose, ear, finger and eyeball representing the different interactive stations of “The Science of our Senses” exhibit, hosted by AAAS Education and Human Resources, drew excited youngsters and parents to the two-day expo event, as did the association’s popular “Meet the Scientists!” stage shows, organized by the Office of Public Programs.During the stage shows, scientists wowed an audience with dynamic presentations. Afterward, audience members spoke one-on-one with the scientists and asked questions. Staying with the theme of the senses, the show featured experts researching the science of perception, encompassing topics from how babies make sense of sound to how robots sense touch.

Art Gallery

A discussion exploring the complex problem of worldwide waste was just one example of how the AAAS Art Gallery used art as an entrée to the world of science and technology in 2012. Hosting the “Disposable Culture” exhibit, which was inspired by a special “Working with Waste” edition of the journal Science, the gallery featured fi ve artists who are reintroducing cast-off items to our world through art. The discussion brought experts from different fields who spoke about the innovative work being done to address the issue of accumulating waste. Other 2012 exhibitions focused on the historical, scientific and global impacts of malaria, and the need to protect what lies beneath the surface of the oceans.The gallery is an outgrowth of the AAAS Art of Science and Technology Program, which was created to further public engagement with science and technology by using art as a medium for the presentation of scientific themes.

The AAAS Art Gallery’s multimedia exhibit, “Malaria: Blood, Sweat and Tears,” organized in cooperation with the international nonprofit Malaria Consortium, featured the work of photojournalist Adam Nadel. [AAAS/Carla Schaffer]

Communicating Science Workshops

Being able to effectively communicate science to the public, policymakers and reporters is a critical skill for scientists and engineers. AAAS organized an array of workshops and talks in 2012 for scientists at the AAAS Annual Meeting, the annual meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists, the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Virginia Commonwealth University, among others. The workshops reached more than 420 scientists.The tips and tools provided by AAAS workshops seek to foster information-sharing and respect between the scientific community and the public, which is crucial to the communication of critical issues such as the environment and health. The workshops help scientists to conduct media interviews, participate in public forums, and otherwise explain scientific information in a comprehensible and engaging way.

Senior Scientists and Engineers

Students in Mary Yeates’ high-school classes in Montgomery County, Maryland, are being taught to think like junior engineers. Partly, they have AAAS volunteer Senior Scientists and Engineers (SSE) to thank—for providing Gerry Klebe, an aeronautical engineer who spends quite a bit of his time collaborating with Yeates. “We really ended up transforming the class,” Yeates said. “I’m the CEO, and he’s my senior consultant, and we have management meetings.”The professional input offered by the SSE volunteers comes at a crucial moment in science education, as updated science education standards emphasize the importance of instruction in engineering skills as well as hands-on learning and understanding processes over memorizing information.

AAAS MemberCentral

MemberCentral reached out to the AAAS member community and the public with a revamped Web site offering interesting and inspiring podcasts, live chats and webinars on science-related topics. MemberCentral also held a member event in London that was the first of an international series.

Redesign: MemberCentral

The MemberCentral Web site got a new look and feel in 2012, with a redesign that made the site easier to use and more accessible to the public. The redesigned site upholds the AAAS mission of engaging the public around scientific issues by highlighting the work that AAAS members do in the laboratory, in the field and in the classroom and community.New blogs and long-form articles appeared on the site in 2012, and the Cutting Edge video series featuring AAAS members giving short lectures grew to include the topics of biofuels and energy from waves, wind and the sun. The site also hosted live chats with the AAAS R&D Policy Analysis group and the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows. The site’s new series of webinars included “Hollywood and Science: Bringing accurate science to TV and film” and “Education Renovation: Overhauling undergraduate STEM programs.”

Traffic to the redesigned Web site increased by more than 50 percent over the previous year.

AAAS Member Event In London

AAAS members at a special event at the Royal Society in London enjoyed a lecture by Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom in one of her final public appearances before she died in June 2012. Ostrom, who won her Nobel Prize for groundbreaking research demonstrating that ordinary people can create rules and institutions to allow sustainable and equitable management of shared resources, spoke about climate change. The event, which included a member reception, is providing the model for a series of similar events to be produced globally in 2013.

                         [From left; Jay Pruett, Oklahoma Chapter of The Nature Conservancy; John Weir; Laurence C. Smith]


AAAS engages its members through four geographic divisions and 24 sections refl ecting a diverse range of scientific disciplines. In 2012, the four AAAS Divisions organized events on topics such as threats to health and way of life in the Arctic, lessons in sustainable design applied to science, research in criminal psychology and the struggling ecosystems of prairies.

Arctic Division: Circumpolar Health

The AAAS Arctic Division held its 2012 annual meeting with the 15th triennial International Congress on Circumpolar Health. Participants from nine Arctic nations—including scientists, doctors, policymakers, indigenous leaders, educators and students—gathered to discuss health issues such as nutrition, obesity, food security, climate change impacts on human health, suicide and public engagement in research. The AAAS Arctic Division has long been influential in health matters, but this was the first time the division’s meeting was held jointly with the International Congress on Circumpolar Health.The health of people living in the Far North is increasingly threatened by environmental damage and by toxic substances that ride air currents from lands to the south, speakers reported. Climate change is disrupting wildlife migration patterns and the water cycle. Processed foods and urban life have caused a rise in “civilization diseases,” and obesity, diabetes, suicide and substance abuse are surging. The traditional lifestyle of many indigenous people is in danger of vanishing.

There is a “growing recognition of the need to have … diverse partnerships to study and work on circumpolar health,” said Rhonda M. Johnson, chair of the Department of Health Sciences and a professor of public health at the University of Alaska Anchorage. “An important part of this congress is the opportunity for networking across the northern regions.”

Caribbean Division: Sustainable Design

The AAAS Caribbean Division focused a September 2012 conference on sustainable design and the lessons that scientists can learn from architects and other designers.“The principles of sustainability in the design of buildings, structures, molecules and even new life forms will require an ongoing conversation between designers, scientists and engineers,” said Caribbean Division President Abel Baerga-Ortiz. “With this dialogue in mind, we will seek to explore the application of concepts borrowed from sustainable design in science and engineering.”

Puerto Rican architect Fernando Abruña, sometimes called the father of green architecture
in Puerto Rico, gave the keynote address. Because of the conservation, recycling and energy efficiency made possible by his designs, the Environmental Protection Agency named him in 2012 to its National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology.

At least one panel discussion at the conference took another approach to the topic, with scientists from the fields of zoology, ecology, chemistry and nanotechnology discussing how their research is influenced by concepts of shape, symmetry and aesthetics.

Pacific Division: Climate, Space Science and More

Topics ranging from the effect of climate change on sagebrush-steppe ecosystems to the forensic psychology of female death-penalty cases headlined the AAAS Pacifi c Division’s 2012 annual meeting. Held in Boise, Idaho, in conjunction with the Northwest Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society, the event offered many opportunities for the public to have the experience of participating “in a major science meeting,” said Pacific Division President Robert Chianese.Students and scholars from the Pacific region made presentations at the meeting, and field trips took participants to the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area and the Bruneau Dunes and Observatory.

Southwest / Rocky Mountains: From Ecology to Medicine

The lesser prairie chicken and the prairie mole cricket are just two of the species whose habitat has been destroyed by an invasion of junipers taking over the Great Plains from Texas to South Dakota. “Juniper invasion has emerged as a dominant threat to some of the most threatened ecosystems of North America,” said Oklahoma State University Professor Samuel Fuhlendorf, who spoke at the 2012 AAAS Southwestern and Rocky Mountains Division meeting.Introduced to the prairie as windbreaks, the junipers are just one example of how a natural ecosystem that endured for millennia has been thwarted, experts said at the meeting, which also offered sessions on stem cell research and new uses for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), as well as a symposium on increasing regional bioscience research capacity through outreach, cooperation and internships.

“This is an important conference regionally, and it’s important for students and young researchers,” said David Nash, executive director of the Southwestern and Rocky Mountains Division, “so there’s a real value in mixing local, national and international issues.”