Barbara A. Schaal, PhD, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, has been elected president-elect of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society.
A world-renowned evolutionary plant biologist widely recognized for her pioneering research, Schaal is also the Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences.
She begins her three-year term as an officer and member of the AAAS Board of Directors’ Executive Committee Feb. 17 at the close of the 181st AAAS Annual Meeting in San Jose, California.
Her one-year term as president of AAAS, which publishes the journals Science, Science Translational Medicine and Science Signaling, begins in February 2016. After her tenure as president, she will chair the AAAS Board of Directors for a year.
“Barbara Schaal is a distinguished member of the Washington University faculty who has made great contributions not only through pathbreaking research, exemplary teaching, and strong leadership at the university, but also through many key national appointments in which she has shared her expertise and commitment to advancing science,” said Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton.
“I am pleased that she has been elected by the AAAS membership to take on the additional role of president-elect and then president of one of the most prestigious and vital scientific organizations in the world.”
“I am very much looking forward to my term as AAAS president,” said Schaal, who recently served as chair of the AAAS section on biological sciences. “I’m particularly interested in communicating the value of the basic research enterprise for our nation’s economic future and the well-being of citizens. I’m also interested in supporting the STEM activities of AAAS.”
Strong research, leadership, national service
Schaal was among the first plant scientists to use molecular biology-based approaches to understand evolutionary processes in plants, and she has worked to advance understanding of plant molecular systematics and population genetics.
Her recent work includes collaborating with students and peers to research the evolutionary genetics of plants in hopes of enriching crops such as rice.
In 2005, Schaal became the first woman elected vice president of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and was re-elected for another four-year term in 2009.
That same year, she was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a post she still holds today.
Last July, she was one of 15 distinguished scientists from academia and industry appointed by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to the newly formed Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research.
Schaal, who was one of three U.S. science envoys for 2012-13 appointed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, also serves as chair of the Division on Earth and Life Studies at the National Research Council.
Schaal recently served as chair of the NAS advisory group on the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The 24-member committee that Schaal led created a new strategic vision document that will guide the NAS Gulf Research Program over the next five years.
She has been president of the Botanical Society of America and of the Society for the Study of Evolution.
In addition to her research and national service, Schaal also has been an active member of the Washington University community, serving as chair of the biology department from 1993-97 and as director of Tyson Research Center, the university’s 2,000-acre environmental research station, from 2011-2013.
She became dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences in 2013.
Born in Berlin, Germany, Schaal grew up in Chicago and earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in biology in 1969 from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She earned a master’s degree in 1971 and a doctorate in 1974, both in population biology from Yale University.
Before joining Washington University in 1980, she taught at the University of Houston and Ohio State University.
She was named Washington University’s Spencer T. Olin Professor in Arts & Sciences in 2001 and the inaugural recipient of the Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professorship in 2009.
Schaal has received numerous prestigious awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Key Award from the American Genetics Association and most recently, the American Institute of Biological Sciences Distinguished Scientist Award for 2011-12.
At Washington University, where she regularly involves undergraduates in her labs and mentors graduate and postdoctoral students, she has received the Founders Day Distinguished Faculty Award, the Arthur Holly Compton Faculty Achievement Award and the Graduate Student Senate Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award.
Following the AAAS annual meeting, Geraldine Richmond, the Presidential Chair and Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oregon, will begin her term as AAAS president. Gerald Fink, professor of genetics, founding member of the Whitehead Institute at MIT, and current AAAS president, will become chair of the AAAS Board of Directors.
The nonprofit AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes more than 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million.
Among the ways AAAS fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” is through initiatives in science policy, international programs and science education.