Southern Oregon University professor goes to science conference

Southern Oregon University Biology Professor Roger Christianson joined 3,300 scientists this week in Boston for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Christianson hopes to recruit scientists to attend a regional science conference that he is organizing in Hawaii in June. And as executive director of the Pacific Division of AAAS, Christianson will present a report to the national board.

"The beauty of our meetings is that we are a general society so people have the opportunity to listen to things they wouldn't ordinarily hear in a disciplinary society's meeting," Christianson said. "There is cross pollination of ideas that can occur and it's enriching."

The meeting brings together biologists, geologists, chemists, geneticists, political scientists, anthropologists and other disciplines. It provides an opportunity for researchers to unveil projects, some that relate to the theme "Science and Technology from a Global Perspective."

One of the speakers will be Nicholas Negroponte, an MIT professor and pioneer in the field of computer-aided design and founder of One Laptop Per Child.

"These are simple computers that can be outfitted with a hand-crank system so kids who live in the middle of nowhere and without electricity can use them," Christianson said. "And we can get these computers to kids in third-world countries for about $200 each. Most people don't understand how spin-offs from science permeate our lives and people benefit at all levels, both from poor and rich countries."

Other speakers at the Boston meeting include: David Baltimore, who won a Nobel Prize in Medicine; Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who is active in using technology to confront deep poverty and the aftermath of genocide; and Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, which uses its assets of nearly $4 billion to "promote the well-being of humanity," according to the society's Web site, .

AAAS is the largest and oldest general scientific society in the United States, founded in 1848. It publishes one of the premier scientific journals in the world, Science, which was started by Thomas Edison about 126 years ago. An SOU professor who has been published in Science, Michael Parker, wrote an article in 1996 called "Effects of Disturbance on River Food Webs" about the impact of dams on fish.

Science conventions such as the one in Boston next week are not just about unveiling new applications from research, Christianson said. The meetings provide an opportunity for scientists to compare notes and get feedback about their research.

"That's the whole idea: giving students, faculty, researchers opportunities to present results and get into discussions about them," he said.

"There are all sorts of people working to understand the natural world around us," Christianson added. "You need to get together and talk with more than just your disciplinary colleagues from time to time."

When the structure of DNA was being hotly pursued in the 1940s, for example, the different teams working on the project were hesitant to freely share information for fear of losing a Nobel Prize.

"When scientists are not talking to teach other, it has the affect of slowing things down," Christianson said. "The group that ultimately figured out the structure of DNA was listening, peeking over shoulders, picking up clues here and there and finally putting it all together for their seminal research report on the structure of DNA, which was published in 1953 in the journal Nature, the main competitor to AAAS's journal Science. The structure of DNA would likely have been elucidated sooner if people had been talking with each other and freely sharing information."

A national AAAS meeting is also where South Korean stem cell researcher Hwang Woo Suk unveiled his cloning research. His paper was published in the Science journal in May 2005 but retracted after Seoul National University investigators determined the stem cell colonies the researcher claimed to have made were fake.

"Science tends to be self correcting and that was a wake up call," Christianson said. "Although the society already had fairly strict editorial standards for its journal, new measures have since been implemented to better verify research prior to publication."

Once the Boston meeting is over, Christianson will continue to prepare for the regional conference, scheduled for June 15-20 in Waimea, Hawaii. The AAAS Pacific Division has called for symposium and workshop proposals and presentations from scientists, students, professors and researchers. Society members come from California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, western Montana, Hawaii, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and just about the entire Pacific Rim.

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