By John DiConsiglio and Thomas Kohout
Two members of the George Washington University faculty were elected to the 2021 class of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellows, among the most distinct honors within the scientific community.
Christopher Cahill, chair of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences’ (CCAS) Chemistry Department and a leader in inorganic and materials chemistry, and Nathan Smith, assistant professor of pediatrics and of pharmacology and physiology at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, join the distinguished class.
This year’s roster of 564 scientists, engineers and innovators spans 24 scientific disciplines, with accomplishments ranging from developing vaccine technology and leading breakthroughs in climate science to pioneering artificial intelligence and uncovering insights into the formation of breast cancer.
“AAAS is proud to honor these individuals who represent the kind of forward thinking the scientific enterprise needs while also inspiring hope for what can be achieved in the future,” said Sudip S. Parikh, AAAS CEO and executive publisher of the Science journals.
The AAAS Fellows program stretches back to 1874. Fellows have included civil rights icon and sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois, astronaut Ellen Ochoa and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu.
A lifetime honor, past AAAS electees include GW President Mark S. Wrighton and former Vice President for Research and Professor of Pharmacology and Physiology Leo Chalupa, as well as faculty members from across GW, including University Professor of Human Origins Bernard Wood, Physics Department Chair Chryssa Kouveliotou, Emeritus Professor Patricia Berg, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department Chair Michael Plesniak, Computational Biology Institute Director Keith Crandall and Center for Translational Medicine Director Lopa Mishra.
Cahill, who came to GW in 2000 and has led the chemistry department since 2019, served as an American Institute of Physics Fellow within the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism in 2015–16. The experience, which primarily involved analyzing the global nuclear landscape, brought a new dimension to his teaching and research, he said.
“It helped redefine my perception of what a scientist’s contribution to society, our country and our planet can be,” he said.
Cahill’s research has appeared in more than 150 publications, including prestigious journals such as Inorganic Chemistry, the Journal of the American Chemical Society and Angewandte Chemie.
“To be included in this august company of researchers and to have my commitment to science recognized on this level is truly flattering and rewarding,” added Cahill, a professor of chemistry and international affairs. “It speaks to the quality of research and scholarship that we’re doing [at GW] that so many of my colleagues have shared this validation and recognition of their accomplishments.”
Smith, also director of basic neuroscience research, Center for Neuroscience Research, and principal investigator, Center for Neuroscience Research at Children’s National Hospital, was among the 2021 AAAS Fellows in the neuroscience category.
“I am honored and humbled by my election as a 2021 AAAS Fellow,” said Smith. “This achievement in itself is impressive, but what’s most rewarding about this accomplishment and others—such as being the first Black student to receive his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and being the first Black faculty member in the Center for Neuroscience Research at Children’s National Research Institute—is that they serve as firm examples for those who look like me to know that nothing is impossible and to keep reaching for the stars.”
Smith’s research focuses on neuroglia interactions, a type of brain cell that provides support, protection and defense to the nervous system. He and his research team study how these processes in the brain affect the interactions between different areas in healthy brains and how disruptions in these neuroglia interactions contribute to diseases such as learning and memory disorders, ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy. His research has earned funding through a National Institutes of Health NINDS K01 Faculty Career Development Award, a National Science Foundation Frontiers Award, a Department of Defense Army Research Award, and the Edward M. Connor Family Endowment for Innovation in Research Award.