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Three researchers elected Fellows of American Association for the Advancement of Science

Three University of Toledo researchers have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in recognition of their important contributions to scientific discovery.

The UT faculty members who are among the 396 AAAS Fellows elected in 2017 are Dr. Heidi Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College and professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences; Dr. Karen Bjorkman, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Distinguished University Professor of Astronomy, and Helen Luedtke Brooks Endowed Professor of Astronomy; and Dr. Steven Federman, professor of astronomy.

AAAS is the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific and engineering society. Since 1874, it has elected Fellows to recognize members for their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.

“I am proud three UT faculty members earned this prestigious national honor in one year,” UT President Sharon L. Gaber said. “This recognition by AAAS is an external validation of the talented experts on our campus. UT faculty make important contributions to their fields of study and actively engage our students in research projects in the process.”


Appel, who joined UT in 2016, is being elected to the biological sciences section of the AAAS for her contributions to the field of chemical ecology. Her research on how plants can “hear” by detecting feeding vibrations from insects and responding with an enhanced chemical defense has been widely cited.

Her other research project explores how galling insects trick plants into making novel structures that they then use as protected places to feed and reproduce. Some of these insects are major agricultural pests worldwide on grapes, wheat and rice.

“Plant defenses against insects are mostly invisible to us because they are chemical. Just think about all of the herbs and spices we use — plants evolved that chemistry to defend themselves against their own diseases and insect pests,” Appel said. “I’ve been fortunate to spend my career working with great collaborators to advance our understanding of how plants detect and respond to insect pests, including a sensory modality we didn’t realize plants had.”


Bjorkman, who has been a member of UT’s faculty since 1996, is being elected into the association’s astronomy section for her leadership in the field of stellar astrophysics and spectropolarimetry to better understand the disks around massive stars.

The massive stars she studies, which are 10 to 20 times the mass of the sun, can have unpredictable gaseous disks around them that change over time for reasons as yet unknown. Bjorkman studies these disks both in individual stars and in larger samples within star clusters to better understand their physical characteristics and the mechanisms behind their formation and variability.

“Most of the atoms that make up everything around us originated in the center of stars, so it is important to advance our understanding of stars and their evolution, while at the same time applying the laws of physics. That is how we learn things, by continuously testing our understanding,” Bjorkman said. “It is an honor to have one of the largest science associations in the world acknowledge our contributions to science. When two of the seven astronomers in this year’s class of Fellows are from UT, that is nice recognition from our colleagues about the strength of our program here.”


Federman also is being elected into the astronomy section of the AAAS for his contributions in the research of interstellar matter and for advancing the field of laboratory astrophysics.

He has been a UT astronomer since 1988 and for much of his career has studied interstellar gas clouds to better understand the elements and isotopes within these clouds that form stars. He also is a leader in establishing the field of laboratory astrophysics that brings together theoretical and experimental astronomy research to combine observational and lab data to better test theories. He was the first chair of the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Laboratory Astrophysics.

“Studying the abundances of elements and isotopes in the material between stars informs about the reactions and processes that happened in the past that led to the outcome we see today,” Federman said. “I’m proud to have been able to contribute over the years as we’ve moved from modeling to observations to lab studies as we continue to learn more and more about the chemical makeup in material that will become the next generation of stars and planets.”

Appel, Bjorkman and Federman will be recognized at the AAAS Fellows Forum at the association’s annual meeting Feb. 17 in Austin, Texas.

The 2017 AAAS Fellows join UT’s Dr. Carol Stepien, Distinguished University Professor of Ecology, who was elected last year, and Dr. Jack Schultz, who joined UT in September as senior executive director of research development and has been an AAAS Fellow since 2011 when he was elected while at the University of Missouri.