Twelve Rutgers Professors Named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
They are among 564 scientists, engineers and innovators recognized for their achievements
Rutgers faculty elected to the newest class of fellows for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) are engaging in research to tackle some of the greatest mysteries of human health, build a better understanding of the body’s response to disease and advance the growth of green energy.
Their work demonstrates the breadth of ongoing research at the university that is changing the world and making a difference in people’s lives. The dozen faculty members, the largest group ever selected from Rutgers, are working to restore the brain function of people suffering from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and Alzheimer’s disease, have been recognized for their efforts advocating for public health and are working to understand the causes of the long-term effects of COVID-19.
“I applaud Rutgers’ newest fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science – 12 eminent scientists who exemplify the excellence of Rutgers faculty and whose scholarly achievements, as recognized by their peers, fulfill the AAAS mission to advance science, engineering and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people,” Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said.
AAAS, the world's largest multidisciplinary scientific society and a leading publisher of cutting-edge research through its Science family of journals, announced the newest members of the class of fellows on Jan. 26. It is among the most distinct honors within the scientific community.
AAAS fellows are a distinguished group of scientists, engineers and innovators who have been recognized for their achievements across disciplines ranging from research, teaching and technology, to administration in academia, industry and government, to excellence in communicating and interpreting science to the public.
Rutgers' AAAS fellows are among 564 scientists, engineers and innovators spanning 24 scientific disciplines who are being recognized for their scientifically and socially distinguished achievements.
Professor of neuroscience and cell biology
Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
Honored for his distinguished contributions to the field of neuroscience, particularly neurodevelopmental disabilities, advocacy, and communicating and interpreting science to the public.
Emanual DiCicco-Bloom is a pediatrician who specializes in child neurology and developmental disorders, researching brain cell growth and how abnormalities and environmental exposures may contribute to developmental disorders, including autism.
DiCicco-Bloom has defined how proteins in the developing brain before birth and shortly afterward control the generation of neurons, nerve cells in the brain that send and receive signals. The proliferation of neural stem cells is vulnerable to environmental exposures like pesticides, metals and therapeutic drugs.
Pinpointing a common genetic variant that may contribute to autism during cerebellar and forebrain development, DiCicco-Bloom has researched its effect on the brain and how these abnormalities may contribute to behaviors related to autism spectrum disorder.
DiCicco-Bloom is working to determine how changes in the microbiome – which includes trillions of microscopic organisms that live in and on our bodies – from exposures to antibiotics, as well as caesarean section, impact the developing brain in newborns.
Throughout his professional career, DiCicco-Bloom has served as an advocate and scientific adviser to organizations focused on autism awareness, education and supporting scientific discovery. He has helped guide strategies that promote scientific advancement in autism spectrum disorder and provided biomedical expertise to federal agencies including the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense.
DiCicco-Bloom has served in leadership roles in professional organizations and is seeking to advance the discovery of fundamental neurobiological pathways underlying autism and promoting the most effective therapeutic interventions.
While DiCicco-Bloom knows the importance of providing the most up-to-date information on the causes of brain disorders and what may be the most effective treatments, he also knows what unproven therapies should be avoided. Translating and explaining basic science discoveries to families is critical to their understanding of brain development and how this research may relate to them, he said.
“This new era of exploring neuropsychiatric conditions in human neural precursors may provide more relevant cellular and molecular pathways on which to target therapeutic interventions that are personalized to the specific individual,” DiCicco-Bloom said.
– Jennifer Forbes
Professor of earth and planetary sciences
School of Arts and Sciences
Honored for her distinguished contributions and leadership in continental-scale hydrology, particularly on the interactions between groundwater and near-surface systems, including vegetation and surface water.
Ying Fan Reinfelder has been researching the importance of water in shaping global environmental change for the past two decades.
As a hydrologist, she wants to know what water does to shape the planet’s landscape, examining the patterns of land ecosystems like forests, grasslands and wetlands.
Studying the geological past — hundreds of millions of years ago when plants began moving from water to grow on land — Reinfelder’s research looks at how these water patterns have changed and what can be expected in the future.
Reinfelder has examined plant rooting depth to help scientists know where there are deeper water sources and which areas are more resilient to droughts. Knowing the sources of water for plants, she said, helps to understand droughts and floods as the world works to develop solutions to combat climate and global challenges.
Reinfelder, a professor in the School of Arts and Sciences, initiated a master’s program in environmental geosciences to fulfill the needs of the state and industry for environmental professionals and serves on boards of numerous organizations of distinguished scientific scholars researching environmental change.
She is proud of how her work has shed light on global change. Reinfelder created a global map outlining the depth of Earth’s groundwater, how much water may be underground and how this groundwater may supply water for land vegetation across the world.
“Water is the No. 1 requirement for life, so knowing where, why and how much water there is can tell us a lot about what kinds of plants may live in a particular place. Water connects all and little happens without water, at least on this planet,’’ Reinfelder said.
– Megan Schumann
Dean and Professor
Rutgers School of Dental Medicine
Honored for her distinguished contributions to the field of dentistry, particularly for her leadership and advocacy in addressing contemporary issues facing dental education, research and delivery of oral health care.
Cecile A. Feldman’s work as a researcher and public health advocate transcends the dental profession.
In 2019, she was awarded an $11.7 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to research the combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen as an alternative to opioids. Oral health providers are among the top prescribers of opioids, so the field is fertile ground to explore the treatment of acute pain. The five-site study, which will take place over six years and involve 1,800 subjects, illustrates how dentistry can have an effect beyond the dentist chair.
As an advocate, she argues for federal and statewide policy changes and speaks out strongly against disinformation. She has urged officials to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for all health care workers as well as provide accessible, affordable oral health care to constituents. She used Netlfix’s distribution of a video falsely linking root canals with breast cancer as an opportunity to educate people about credible sources of scientific information and debunked conspiracy theories surrounding fluoridated water.
Feldman – who addresses some of the most critical issues in health care today – is leading research on the impact of COVID-19 testing among staff, providers and patients at private dental offices to ensure they remain open.
Her mission is to nurture the belief that research can be incorporated into everyday professional life.
“How can we better leverage our health care workforce to contribute toward gathering evidence? We want them to be individuals who have an insatiable desire for reading and gathering and processing new information,’’ she said. “We want to instill in them the passion to contribute to a knowledge base that is always growing. The more we know, the more we realize what we don’t know.’’
– Carrie Stetler
Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences-Newark
Professor of pathology laboratory medicine
Rutgers New Jersey Medical School
Honored for her distinguished science leadership and contributions to the field of biology, notably in the area of innate immune responses to human viral infections with a concentration on the basic biology of dendritic cells.
Patricia Fitzgerald-Bocarsly has dedicated her career to studying viral immunology, including HIV in the aging population, and has recently shifted her focus to the COVID-19 pandemic to better understand how the immune system responds to viral infections.
Her contributions led to the discovery of a new high interferon-producing cell type called the plasmacytoid dendritic cell (pDC), a group of proteins produced by host cells in the body that respond to viruses and cancer. Her discovery has led us to better understand human disease and the immune system.
Fitzgerald-Bocarsly is deeply passionate about advocating for women in the sciences and facilitating dialogue between the religious community and scientific community on science and technology. She wants to build and nurture a new generation of scientists, educators and clinicians in health sciences in her current role as provost at RBHS-Newark.
“My plans for the immediate future are to continue to train students in my role at Rutgers and to further expand my research in the area of pDC and T-cell senescence in the context of viral infections and normal aging,” said Fitzgerald-Bocarsly. “Ultimately, the broader goal of my research is to apply fundamental science and patient-oriented research to improve the health of aging individuals to help them maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
– Modesta (Maud) Alobawone and Emily Everson Layden
Director, Center for Immunity and Inflammation
Senior associate dean for research
Rutgers New Jersey Medical School
Honored for his distinguished contributions to the field of molecular and translational immunology, with a particular focus on the initiation and function of type 2 immunity during disease infection.
William C. Gause is an internationally recognized scientist whose work has revealed critical aspects of allergic inflammation and the role this response plays in wound healing, providing the basis for the development of more targeted and improved therapeutics.
His recent publications in high-impact journals including Nature Medicine, Science, Nature Immunology and Nature Materials have revealed novel approaches for modulating activation of immune cells to control harmful inflammation that can contribute to a wide variety of diseases. They have also provided new insights into how specific immune cells may be stimulated to fight harmful pathogens associated with infectious diseases.
As the director of the Rutgers Institute for Infections and Inflammatory Diseases, Gause plays an invaluable role in the university’s efforts to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic, serving with a team of researchers at the Rutgers University Center for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness (CCRP2).
He has been involved with the development of new experimental models that allow researchers to better understand how COVID-19 triggers a variety of disorders, ranging from persistent respiratory problems to impaired cognitive function.
The research center he leads at the Rutgers Center for Immunity and Inflammation has recruited more than two dozen outstanding NIH-funded faculty from elite biomedical research institutions throughout the country who now perform state-of-the-art translational and clinical research in infectious and inflammatory diseases at Rutgers. Their work has already led to major advances that are providing the basis for new treatments and therapeutics.
“This recognition supports the expansion of our research to better understand the immune system for the purpose of developing new treatments and vaccines for enhancing protection against infectious diseases and controlling the harmful inflammation that can often be a predominant causative agent in the development of disease,'' Gause said.
– Emily Everson Layden
Distinguished Professor of chemistry and chemical biology
School of Arts and Sciences
Honored for his distinguished contributions to the field of catalysis by transition-metal complexes, particularly the elucidation of reaction mechanisms and the development of catalysts for hydrocarbon functionalization.
Alan Goldman’s research group is one of the leading laboratories in the world developing new catalysts that could advance the growth of green energy solutions, while explaining the underlying chemical principles.
His laboratory – focused on where challenges faced by society overlap with fundamental scientific questions – has made major contributions to the field of catalytic conversion of hydrocarbons, including the development of catalysts to produce fuels that will result in reduced emissions of pollutants.
The combustion of conventional liquid fuels such as petroleum-based diesel is a major contributor to air pollution, which causes millions of premature deaths and widespread health problems each year.
Catalysts developed in the Goldman lab could also be applied toward converting carbon dioxide (CO2) and renewable energy into liquid fuels. Goldman said the development of systems to produce clean-combusting fuels from CO2 would be a win-win situation, mitigating both toxic air pollution and global-warming emissions.
Goldman’s group is also researching ways to make the production of fertilizer for agriculture greener and a less energy-demanding process. They are developing catalysts that would allow the conversion of nitrogen for fertilizer by only using sustainable electricity instead of consuming large quantities of fossil fuel accompanied by carbon dioxide emissions.
“We and many others are trying to develop a new generation of catalysts,” said Goldman, who credits the scientists who have worked as doctoral students and postdocs in his lab and are now using the skills they developed at Rutgers throughout the world. “But we are just as interested in elucidating an understanding of how current catalysts operate; such understanding might allow us – or anyone else – to achieve the needed breakthroughs.”
– Robin Lally
Distinguished Professor and Chair
Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology
School of Environmental and Biological Sciences
Honored for distinguished contributions to understanding both the fundamental and application components of microbial biotransformations of pollutants, especially chlorinated aromatic compounds and metalloids.
Max Häggblom is a renowned research scientist and educator with a large body of microbial ecology and environmental biotechnology research that has expanded our understanding of how the biodegradation of environmental pollutants, such as dioxins and PCBs, impact our planet.
His research interests revolve around the bioexploration, cultivation and characterization of novel microbes. His research on bacteria has provided a foundation for applications that address the pollution problems facing impacted industrialized and urbanized environments.
Häggblom’s lab is also actively studying microorganisms that degrade pharmaceutical and personal care products in aquatic environments.
“Over the past decades the diverse chemicals in pharmaceutical and personal care products have emerged as a major group of environmental contaminants in numerous watersheds around the world; therefore, it is important to understand how microbes can degrade them. There is much to explore and learn,” Häggblom added.
Häggblom’s work also touches climate change, particularly the roles and responses of microbes in rapidly changing environments, such as the Arctic. In his lab at Rutgers, students have the unique opportunity to explore areas of research such as the biodegradation and detoxification of anthropogenic pollutant chemicals, including certain pesticides; respiration of rare metalloids; or life in the frozen tundra soils.
“For several years, my lab has worked on studying the microbial ecology of Arctic tundra soils to understand how the changing conditions impact microbial activity and turnover of soil organic matter, and consequently enhanced greenhouse gas flux,” Häggblom said. “This is an important area of research as the threat of microbial contribution to positive feedback of greenhouse gas flux is substantial.”
His lab recently received funding from the National Science Foundation to study how diverse microbial communities are established in soils. Häggblom will work with an international research team of scientists from the U.S., China, South Africa and Finland to study soils from the three different regions across Arctic, Tibetan Plateau and Antarctic habitats to expand our understanding of how soil ecosystems respond in critical polar regions.
– Emily Everson Layden
Professor and Chair, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources
School of Environmental and Biological Sciences
Honored for distinguished contributions to the field of ecology and conservation biology, particularly for studies of biological invasions and causes of biotic homogenization.
Julie Lockwood is a leader in the study of how invasive species impact the ecological integrity of natural ecosystems. Her research explores the fate of biodiversity in the wake of globalization and the human domination of Earth, which has led to widespread species invasion and extinction that have reshaped the planet’s biodiversity.
Invasive species have a damaging impact on nearly every sector of the global economy and cost billions of dollars every year to combat. Lockwood’s research provides a foundation to better understand and combat the toll invasive species have been taking on the environment. She has also coauthored a key text in invasion ecology, providing needed clarity to the field for up-and-coming scientists and professionals.
“My research documents how Earth's biodiversity is altered through human actions,” Lockwood said. “As a scientist, any time my research is used to identify and enact solutions to slow the rate of species extinctions or the spread of invasive species, I consider it a success.”
Lockwood has been instrumental in providing science-based guidance on the conservation of native animals, including the recovery and protection of birds in Hawaii, Florida and New Jersey. Her current research focuses on how to combine species conservation with adaptations to climate change, such as the development of offshore wind. She is also exploring the role of trade in wildlife in producing harmful invasive animals and causing species extinction through over-harvest.
“We are entering into a time in Earth’s history where every ecosystem will show the effects of human activities, some much more so than others,” Lockwood explained. “Many of these changes will have real impacts on the well-being of people living in these ecosystems. As I move forward in my career, I hope to engage across disciplines to inform workable solutions to the challenges we will inevitably face as a consequence of climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation.”
– Emily Everson Layden
University Professor of History
Rutgers-Camden and Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research
Honored for her distinguished contributions to the field of social sciences, particularly the history of medicine, academic leadership and communicating and interpreting science to the public.
Margaret Marsh, a historian of medicine who specializes in issues of gender, has been chronicling the history of infertility, reproductive medicine and technology for three decades.
In collaboration with her sister, Wanda Ronner, a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, her recent book, The Pursuit of Parenthood: From Test-Tube Babies to Uterus Transplants, is a history of contemporary assisted reproductive technology – providing insight into the experiences of the scientists and physicians who developed and employed these new technologies and the women and men who used them.
Marsh and Ronner are also the authors of two other books that explore the history of infertility and reproductive medicine. This work reveals the inequities in access to treatment by race and class and probes the ethical questions that medical scientists, practitioners and patients must ask and answer.
As dean of Rutgers-Camden's Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School and during her first time serving as interim chancellor, Marsh was the driving force behind the creation of Ph.D. programs at Rutgers-Camden, including in computational and integrative biology. She promotes programs encouraging underrepresented students to prepare for careers in medicine and teaches the evolution of medicine in all its complexities to Rutgers-Camden Honor College students, many of them preparing for careers in medicine, nursing and science.
Marsh believes that science literacy is important and said what makes her most proud is the opportunities her work has given her “to bring such an important history, with its vast social, cultural and public policy implications, to the public, and my impact in administrative leadership, where I have been able to promote research and graduate training, as well as access to scientific careers for undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds on the Camden campus.’’
– Robin Lally
Professor and Chair, Department of Genetics
School of Arts and Sciences
Honored for her distinguished contributions to developing human genetic maps and for critical efforts to bring genetics to diverse human populations.
Tara Matise is devoted to increasing the understanding of how genes impact human health.
Her early research focused on mapping genes for genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis, which causes persistent lung infections, limits the ability to breathe and has no cure.
Today, Matise is considered a leader in large-scale genetic study management, facilitating collaborative research that allows scientists to collect and analyze large amounts of information more quickly.
The mapping software Matise developed led to genetic maps that serve as crucial tools for pinpointing sites on the genome that can cause debilitating disease, one of the first steps toward better understanding the genetic makeup of individuals and improving diagnosis and treatment of inherited diseases.
The coordinating centers she directs, which are funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health, study multi-ethnic populations in an attempt to increase genetic discoveries that will reduce health disparities in minority populations.
Matise said she believes that more diversity and better scientific methods in genetic studies will lead to equal access in precision medicine and said data from these research studies is critical to identifying genetic mutations that may cause chronic diseases like diabetes.
She said her work at Rutgers exposes her to new discoveries because of collaboration. “I am most proud of the highly collaborative nature of my work, which is a theme that applies to nearly all of my work,” Matise said. “Although I do not do my work in order to be recognized or to receive accolades for my achievements, it is nice to be reminded that my efforts are valuable and on par with other esteemed scientists.”
– Robin Lally
Professor of Genetics
School of Arts and Sciences
Waksman Institute of Microbiology
Honored for his distinguished contributions to the field of fertilization, particularly for discovery and characterization of genes required for fertilization in Caenorhabditis elegans.
Andrew Singson is working to uncover the molecular and genetic mechanisms of fertilization and provide insight into how sperm and egg develop, interact and initiate embryonic development through his research into reproduction in tiny roundworms.
“Fertilization is a process of great social, medical and economic importance,” said Singson. “This award is recognition of our scientific approach. It is an honor for me and reflects the outstanding work of my research team, both past and present.”
Singson has been researching the biological process of fertility in roundworms, known as C. elegans, for more than 25 years, using genetic analysis to find healthy adult worms having trouble having babies, similar to the one in five couples in the United States that experience infertility.
After finding strains of worms with fertility problems, the Singson lab does tests to see if infertility issues are related to the sperm or eggs. He and his team have discovered several proteins in roundworms that together work like molecular Velcro and help the egg and sperm bind and fuse, which may function the same way in humans. The findings, he said, have provided a better understanding of fertility and could lead to more effective treatments for infertility as well as the development of reliable contraceptives.
Singson and his team of fertility gene hunters want to identify the molecular events that occur during fertilization that lead to the cell-cell fusion. Limited to only a few cells in animals or plants, this knowledge will provide insight into other cell-cell interactions besides fertilization and could lead to new treatments for cancer and other diseases.
“While we have made great progress, our genetic experiments with C. elegans tell us that we have not yet found all the pieces to the fertilization puzzle,” Singson said. “We hope that our work will continue to help us understand the diversity of how nature solves the question of conception.”
– Kevin Lorincz
William and Myrle Garbe Chair in Cancer and Leukemia Research
Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy
Honored for his distinguished contributions to the field of molecular signaling in organizing biological structures and function, particularly as related to protein interactions that regulate the growth of neuronal processes.
Renping Zhou’s research is dedicated to finding a way to restore lost brain function in people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases including ALS amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), Alzheimer’s disease and other diseases associated with aging.
His laboratory focuses on identifying what genes are used to make nerve connections in the brain during embryonic development and when these connections are first established. The discoveries he has made have advanced gene therapy — the insertion of a healthy gene into mutated cells to replace a variant that is causing the disease — in order to repair damaged nerve connections in people suffering from reduced brain function. Zhou’s laboratory is currently working on developing new vehicles to deliver therapeutic genes into patients using modified viruses and nanoparticles.
“Our studies on how the nervous system is organized and how these structures are maintained may shed new light on mechanisms by which neurological disorders develop and provide insights into how to treat these diseases,’’ Zhou said. “I am proud of what we have accomplished so far in elucidating the principles of organizing brain connections. It has been exhilarating to discover the secrets of nature and human physiology, and I have very much enjoyed the opportunity and the ability to freely explore these mysteries.”
Zhou has recently shifted his research focus from exploring the basic principles of the organization of the nervous system structures to helping alleviate the suffering of many patients through the development of new drugs based on his gene therapy research.
– Patti Verbanas