Biology Department chair and Prof. Piali Sengupta (BIOL) was one of 443 recently elected Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2019. 

On Nov. 26, the AAAS published a full list of all elected fellows, who come from different universities and study a broad range of subjects. The AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and is located in Washington, D.C.

The AAAS’s article explains that fellows represent the 24 fields, from social, economic and political sciences to the natural sciences, such as biological and medical sciences. Past notable fellows include inventor Thomas Edison in 1878, anthropologist Margaret Mead in 1934 and computer scientist Grace Hopper in 1963. Fellows are elected by their peers on the Council of AAAS, the governing body of the organization. AAAS began selecting fellows in 1874.

According to a Nov. 26 BrandeisNow article, the AAAS sent Sengupta an acceptance letter explaining why she received the honor. The letter said she was chosen for her “distinguished contributions to the field of sensory neuroscience, particularly for defining the molecular genetics of chemical communication and thermosensation in C. elegans.” 

Sengupta runs a lab that is broadly grouped into two areas, according to her Brandeis staff biography. The first is looking at the model organism C. elegans to see its response — attraction or aversion — to stimuli, like changes in temperature and changes to the chemicals in its environment.  Called the “Axis of Taxis” subgroup, they investigate the neuronal, molecular and circuit mechanisms by which this organism responds to the stimuli. This is the part of her research she was recognized for. 

The second subgroup in the Sengupta lab looks in the cilia, the part of the neuron that has the signalling molecules to allow for chemical signal transduction. Those who work on this project are known as the “Cilia Squad” and investigate the morphological and functional properties of the sensory cilia by looking at their cellular and molecular mechanisms. The lab overall looks at the animal’s sensory experience through “genetic, molecular and neuronal mechanisms” to see how they respond to complex and changing environments. It is for these contributions that Sengupta was elected as an AAAS Fellow.

Sengupta said that she is honored to be elected as an AAAS fellow because of its mission of inclusivity. She told BrandeisNow, “AAAS has a strong commitment to promoting science research, policy and education as well as to increasing diversity and inclusion in STEM fields. As a Fellow, I look forward to contributing to these missions.”

As Sengupta said, the AAAS has a longstanding tradition of inclusivity. According to its website, “AAAS is committed to ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to contribute to, and benefit from, science and engineering by encouraging the recruitment, development, and retention of scientists.” The organization seeks to provide tools that “expand access to STEM education, strengthen and diversify the science and technology workforce, and amplify underrepresented and marginalized voices within STEM.”

The 443 electees will be honored with official certificates and blue and gold rosette pins, which symbolize science and engineering. The ceremony will take place on Feb. 15, 2020 in Seattle, WA.