What UK research is on show at AAAS’ 2017 annual meeting?

Sarah Nichols is Deputy Head of Communications at the ESRC. This week she will be heading to Boston, USA for the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, to help promote the very best of UK research. Here Sarah, who is representing Research Councils UK at the conference, writes about what AAAS 2017 is, and what representation the UK will have.


AAAS – what’s it all about?

The AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society, with more than 120,000 members. Based in America, this international non-profit organisation is dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of absolutely everyone. Every year members of AAAS gather to discuss the most recent developments in science and technology at their annual meeting.Down the years the annual meeting has developed a fantastic reputation for being the place-to-be for the latest in breakthrough science. Last year, for example, scientists announced the first-ever detection of gravitational waves – a project which was worked on by STFC-funded UK scientists, and proved Einstein’s theory of relativity correct after more than 100 years.

This year’s meeting

The theme of this year’s meeting, running from 15 to 20 February, is ‘serving society through science policy’. The AAAS states that this theme was selected to demonstrate how decision-making in society is reliant on “knowledge and multiple perspectives”.

This year I’m lucky enough to be in attendance for the week and I’m really enthralled to see how this theme pans out in the huge variety of lectures and seminars on show.

partner-of-choiceHowever, what I’m most looking forward to is hearing about the incredible UK research which will be demonstrated in various contexts throughout AAAS 2017. For those attending, this will be neatly rounded up at the Research Councils UK international reception, which we will be hosting on the evening of 18 February at the Skywalk Observatory high-rise viewing area at the top of the Prudential Tower.

To give you an insight, this reception will highlight some of the exciting UK science and research exhibited during the annual meeting – including where delegates can see themselves in infra-red; meet mini supercomputer Wee Archie; try standing on one leg and letting the scanner check how healthy your posture is – plus lots more!

The speakers at this event will also highlight the stand-out UK talks from the week including:

As the ESRC’s press manager, my interest is naturally piqued by some of the UK social science on show.  For instance, on 18 February Professor Robin Dunbar from the University of Oxford will be presenting ‘Angels or Wolves to One Another? What Makes Us Prosocial, or Otherwise?

An evolutionary anthropologist, Professor Dunbar’s research on relationships has received worldwide coverage, with studies demonstrating that a person can only maintain 150 stable relationships – this figure is

A model showing ancient cavemen stands inside the National Museum of Mongolian History in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Aug. 12, 2009. The museum preserves the Mongolian cultural heritage. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Nathan McCord/Released)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Nathan McCord/Released

known as Dunbar’s Number; and the 150 threshold is created due to a limit in the size of our brain, and the time commitment it can take to make and maintain friendships.

At AAAS Professor Dunbar is expected to reveal his latest preliminary findings looking at other biological functions which are also impacting on the size of social networks we can keep. He will also be among those hosting a Family Science Day event, where he will present ‘Why you can’t have more friends on Facebook than Dunbar’s Number’.

Aside from social science there’s obviously a whole range of really exciting UK research on offer at AAAS. One attention-grabbing presentation I’m looking forward to is: ‘Our future with robots: how will artificial intelligence shape life in 2030?’.

Dr Sabine Hauert, from the University of Bristol, will discuss the different ways that automation is likely to affect our daily lives, including emerging challenges and opportunities for collaboration between people and machines in the workplace.doctor-1193318_640

The session will include an account on the contents of the first report from The One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence, a long-term investigation into AI and its influences on people, their communities, and society.

Last, but not least ‘Pioneering precision medicine: new technology and insights for targeting tumours‘ has caught my eye.

Three scientists – including Laura Harkness-Brennan, Lecturer in Physics at the University of Liverpool – at the forefront of the revolution in personalised medicine will discuss recent advances, including a new technology that improves on X-ray imaging’s major flaws, novel insights into how charged particles can be used to target and treat diseases x-ray-image-568241_640beyond cancer, and efforts to make radiation doses more precise.

We will be hearing how a new technology, targeting tumours more precisely to reduce x-ray radiation dose by up to a third, is soon to be tested in small animal models; as well as how charged particles can be used to treat diseases beyond cancer, including heart disease, and how hibernation renders organs resistant to radiation while tumours remain vulnerable, suggesting a new avenue for cancer treatment.

Keep up to date

I’ll be making sure that everyone back in the UK is kept in the loop  with what’s happening via social media. So, on Twitter make sure you’re following me @sarahnicholspr, and both #ResearchIsGreat and #AAASmtg for the latest UK updates. You can also follow RCUK @research_uk.

The AAAS conference is a great demonstration of UK and US partnerships. You can find out more about some of these latest pieces of work in this new booklet.

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