Stuart Firestein and William Zajc Elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science

December 20, 2011

Stuart Firestein, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, and William Zajc, chair of the Department of Physics, have been elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a prestigious scientific society established in 1848.

Firestein and Zajc are among 539 inductees selected from across the nation. Last year the AAAS recognized four Columbia professors as new fellows.

Firestein was selected for his “distinguished contributions to the field of neuroscience,” according to the AAAS citation. Specifically, he was recognized for his “pioneering work” on the mammalian olfactory system. Firestein’s lab focuses on understanding how mammals, equipped with what he describes as “possibly the best chemical detector on the planet,” are able to sense and discriminate a vast number of molecules known to us as odors.

Dedicated to promoting the accessibility of science to a public audience, Firestein also serves as an advisor for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s program for the Public Understanding of Science. Recently he was awarded the 2011 Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award for excellence in scholarship and teaching. He has a forthcoming book on the workings of science for a general audience called Ignorance, to be published by Oxford University Press in the spring of 2012.

William Zajc was selected for his work in the field of relativistic heavy ion physics, in which high-energy nuclear collisions are used to study the state of matter in the early universe. In particular, Zajc was recognized for his leadership of the PHENIX experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC). In 2005, the experiment made the surprising discovery that the extraordinarily hot and dense matter that filled the universe a few millionths of a second after the big bang was not a gaseous plasma but instead a \"perfect liquid\" that flowed 100 times more easily than water.

Zajc is a member of the Policy and Planning Committee of the Arts & Sciences. He also serves on the Science and Technology Committee for Brookhaven National Laboratory, the Science Council of Thomas Jefferson National Laboratory, and on the National Academies \"Decadal Survey\" of nuclear physics. From 2006 to 2010 he served in various leadership positions including chair of the Division of Nuclear Physics of the American Physical Society. This included service on the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee to the federal government.

New fellows will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue (representing science and engineering, respectively) rosette pin on Feb. 18, 2012 during the 2012 AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver. The names of the new fellows will also be published in the “AAAS News & Notes” section of the journal Science on Dec. 23, 2011.