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Saving Masterpieces and Marriages

Research on wedded bliss, resilient aging, fish robotics and more at AAAS meeting

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February 17, 2014 | by Megan Fellman

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Fifteen Northwestern University faculty members presented their cutting-edge work this past week at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The meeting was titled “Meeting Global Challenges: Discovery and Innovation.”

The diverse research included work on what today’s Americans want from marriage, an analysis of a Pierre-Auguste Renoir masterpiece and a mechanical fish inspired by an animal from the Amazon. Presentations also shed light on empathy as an adaptive behavior, a method to improve donor kidney distribution, the effect of technology on long-term unemployment and more.

In addition to presentations at individual sessions, seven Northwestern faculty members participated in press briefings.

The AAAS meeting, with more than 160 sessions exploring recent developments in science and technology, drew thousands of researchers, educators, journalists and science enthusiasts from around the world to the Hyatt Regency Chicago from Feb. 13 to 17. AAAS is said to be the largest general scientific society in the world. 

Northwestern research presented at AAAS:

-Joan Chiao, assistant professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, “Cultural and Neural Basis of Empathy,” on her research into the understanding of how cultural and biological mechanisms foster empathy and altruism as adaptive behavior

-James Druckman, the Payson S. Wild Professor in the department of political science in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, “When Can the Politicization of Science Affect Public Views of Health Innovations?” on the theory that politicization generates anxiety and results in a status quo bias such that citizens feel uncertainty about what to believe and hence stick to the status quo 

-Eli Finkel, professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management, “The Suffocation of Marriage,” on his research findings that Americans today are looking to their marriages to fulfill different goals than in the past

-Dedre Gentner, Alice Gabrielle Twight Professor of Psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Cognitive Science Program, “Analogy Supports Learning a Basic Engineering Principle in Museum Settings,” on research into various ways to instill STEM learning in children in and out of schools.

-Robert Gordon, the Stanley G. Harris Professor in the department of economics in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, “Long-Term Unemployment, Shrinking Participation and Future Economic Growth,” on to what extent trends such as long-term unemployment and a declining labor force are caused by technology, globalization and other factors 

-Christopher Kuzawa, professor of anthropology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research, “You Are What Your Mother Ate: How Our Ancestors’ Diets Shape Our Health,” on how anthropological research in diverse populations illustrates the myriad ways that our bodies “remember” the diets consumed by recent ancestors

-William Leonard, chair and the Abraham Harris Professor of Anthropology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, “The Metabolic Imperative: Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Energy Dynamics,” on data from contemporary human populations around the world showing the influence of both natural selection and lifestyle change in shaping variation in energy dynamics and nutritional health

-Malcolm MacIver, an associate professor of mechanical and of biomedical engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, “Electric Fish Robotics,” on his robotic fish, inspired by the weakly electric black ghost knifefish of the Amazon basin, that could pave the way for highly agile underwater vehicles

-Thomas McDade, professor of anthropology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research and director of the Laboratory for Human Biology Research, “Is Chronic Inflammation a Disease of Affluence? Insights from Asia and Amazonia,” on how a comparative human biology approach suggests that chronic inflammation may be a “disease of affluence” and points toward promising directions for future research on inflammation and the prevention of chronic disease

-Sanjay Mehrotra, professor of industrial engineering and management sciences in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, “Addressing Allocation Inefficiencies and Geographic Disparities,” on a mathematical model that simulates and optimizes donor kidney distribution, which could help save hundreds of lives each year

-Chad Mirkin, the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, “University Convergence Institutes,” on the challenges of building diverse research teams and his experience as director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology

-Daniel Mroczek, professor of psychology and professor of medical social sciences in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, “Personality, Health and Longevity,” on his research finding that personality traits have emerged as unique predictors of health, well-being and longevity across various segments of the adult lifespan

-Seth Stein, the William Deering Professor of Geological Sciences in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, “How Much Natural Hazard Mitigation Is Enough?” on the need for communities to think carefully about the costs and benefits of preparing for natural hazards, such as hurricanes and earthquakes

-Richard Van Duyne, the Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, “Detecting Organic Dyestuffs in Art with Surface-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy,” on using a powerful scientific method to identify the chemical components of paint used by Renoir in his painting “Madame Léon Clapisson”

-Haoqi Zhang, an assistant professor of computer science and electrical engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, “Crowds, Communities, and Mixed-Initiative Systems,” on new forms of crowd-supported, mixed-initiative systems, including two tools he developed to ease challenges in conference and trip planning

Other faculty members who did not present their own research but were involved in symposiums include:

-Katherine Faber, professor of materials science and engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, co-organized the symposium “Reconstructing and Deconstructing Paintings: Innovations At and Below the Surface” that focused on three conservation science projects

-Michael Abecassis, M.D., chief of the division of organ transplantation and founding director of the Comprehensive Transplant Center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, was a co-organizer with Sanjay Mehrotra of the “Transplant Organ Shortage: Informing National Policies Using Management Sciences” symposium. John Friedewald, M.D., associate professor in medicine and surgery at Feinberg and director of clinical research at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Comprehensive Transplant Center and transplant nephrologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, was the symposium’s discussant.

Topics: Research