The AAAS comes to Vancouver

Since coming on board in 2000, I’ve collected some prize memories from the annual meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). And they’re not what you might expect:

In 2003, BBC reporters suddenly noticed that a robotic head looked exactly like the engineer’s girlfriend, who was standing in a corner of the press room.

Three cloned mules—Idaho Gem, Idaho Star and Utah Pioneer—were on hand for a 2004 press event on cancer research.

A cadaver-sniffing dog, brought in to demonstrate search-and-rescue techniques in 2005, kept “finding” a staff member.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s lecture in 2009 required all hands on deck, from Meetings Director Barb Rice to computer specialists, to help direct traffic. We’ve had stars and luminaries grace our gathering over the years—U.S. presidents Harry Truman, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; Bill Gates, Stephen Jay Gould, and UBC’s own William Rees, originator of the “ecological footprint” concept. The unexpected and often intimate moments of connection are what make the AAAS conference so unique. This is where you’ll see a high-school student sitting with the director of the U.S. National Science Foundation, or a scientist from a developing country talking with the head of the Human Genome Project. The breadth of the conference, encompassing every discipline from astronomy to zoology, and the diversity of the program make it appealing to an unusually large, global audience.

The meeting is, in fact, not one but three (we prefer not to call it a three-ring circus.) The scientific program, featuring 170 symposia for 2012, drew nearly 5,000 general attendees last year in Washington, D.C. The newsroom operation served more than 1,000 newsroom registrants in 2011. Two free Family Science Days lure thousands of public visitors each year and fufill AAAS’s mandate to engage the public in open dialogue on science-society issues.

For the Vancouver conference, our program committee reviewed 355 symposium in 24 disciplines. By the way, hosting the event in Vancouver recognizes the international scope of the organization, representing 10 million individual scientists worldwide through its membership as well as 262 affiliated societies. At the 2012 meeting, look for plenaries by Mike Lazaridis of Research in Motion, Ismail Serageldin of the New Library of Alexandria, Egypt, and Frans B.M. deWaal of the Yerkes Primate Center at Emory University. Topical lecturers will include Carl Wieman of the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy, who has a joint appointment at UBC.

Science headlines will likely encompass hydraulic fracturing or “gas fracking,” archaeoacoustics, climate change impacts to marine life, particle physics, endangered languages, spinal cord injury research, and much more. The Family Science Days lineup features UBC astrophysicist Jaymie Matthews, Simon Fraser nanotech expert Nancy Forde, the aquarium’s killer whales guru Lance Barrett-Lennard and Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency. The late Carl Sagan once said, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” At AAAS, we believe it’s waiting to be communicated, too.

Please join us for the 2012 AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver.
Log onto www.aaas.org/meetings