Plenary Lectures

Plenary sessions provide an opportunity for AAAS Annual Meeting attendees and the public to hear from world-renowned speakers. The speakers discuss important progress on pressing science, technology, and policy issues, and share insights into future directions. Plenary sessions are free and open to all.


AAAS President’s Address

Steven Chu is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular & Cellular Physiology in the Medical School at Stanford University. He has published over 280 papers in atomic and polymer physics, biophysics, biology, bio-imaging, batteries, and other energy technologies. He holds 15 patents, and an additional 9 patent disclosures or filings since 2015.
Dr. Chu was the 12th U.S. Secretary of Energy from January 2009 until the end of April 2013. As the first scientist to hold a Cabinet position and the longest serving Energy Secretary, he recruited outstanding scientists and engineers into the Department of Energy. He began several initiatives including ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy), the Energy Innovation Hubs, and was personally tasked by President Obama to assist BP in stopping the Deepwater Horizon oil leak.
Prior to his cabinet post, he was director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he was active in pursuit of alternative and renewable energy technologies, and Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford University, where he helped launch Bio-X, a multi-disciplinary institute combining the physical and biological sciences with medicine and engineering. Previously he was head of the Quantum Electronics Research Department at AT&T Bell Laboratories.
Dr. Chu is the co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to laser cooling and atom trapping, and has received numerous other awards. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Academia Sinica, and is a foreign member of the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Korean Academy of Sciences and Technology and the National Academy of Sciences, Belarus. He is the President Elect of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He received an A.B. degree in mathematics and a B.S. degree in physics from the University of Rochester, and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, as well as 32 honorary degrees.

Thursday, February 13
5:15 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.


The Second Antibiotic Era

Maryn McKenna is an independent journalist who specializes in public health, global health and food policy. She is a columnist for WIRED, a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Human Health at Emory University, and the author of the 2017 bestseller BIG CHICKEN: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats, which received the 2018 Science in Society Award and was named a best book of 2017 by Amazon, Smithsonian, Science News, WIRED, Civil Eats, and other publications (and is published in the UK and other territories under the title Plucked.) Her earlier, award-winning books are Superbug and Beating Back the Devil.
She appears in the 2019 German documentary Resistance Fighters and the 2014 U.S. documentary Resistance, and her 2015 TED Talk, “What do we do when antibiotics don’t work any more?” has been viewed 1.7 million times and translated into 34 languages. She writes for The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Mother Jones, Newsweek, NPR, Smithsonian, Scientific American, Slate, The Atlantic, Nature, and The Guardian, among other publications. She was a 2018 Poynter Fellow in Journalism at Yale University and has received the 2019 John P. McGovern Award for Excellence in Biomedical Communication, the 2014 Leadership Award from the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, and the 2013 Byron H. Waksman Award for Excellence in the Public Communication of Life Sciences. She lives in Atlanta.

Friday, February 14
5:15 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.


The Social Life of DNA and the Need for a New Bioethics

Alondra Nelson, Ph.D., is President of the Social Science Research Council and the Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, an independent research center for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey. Previously, she served on the faculty of Columbia University, where was inaugural Dean of Social Science. Prior to this, she was a faculty member at Yale University.
Professor Nelson is a scholar of science, technology, and social inequality. Her major research contributions are situated at the intersection of racial formation and social citizenship, on the one hand, and emerging scientific and technological phenomena, on the other. She connects these dimensions in award-winning and acclaimed books, including The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome; Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination; Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race and History (with Keith Wailoo and Catherine Lee); and Technicolor: Race, Technology and Everyday Life (with Thuy Linh Tu).
Professor Nelson serves on the boards of the Teagle Foundation, the Data and Society Research Institute, United States International University: Africa, and the Obama Presidency Oral History Project. She is an elected Fellow at the American Academy of Political and Social Science and the Hastings Center. Professor Nelson received her B.A. at the University of California at San Diego and earned an M.Phil. and Ph.D. at New York University.

Saturday, February 15
5:15 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

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