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Scientific American (University)

By Maggie Barrett

A photo of a young woman of color holding a coffee cup that has

Science is the fastest growing area of undergraduate studies at AU.

You don’t have to be Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jane Goodall, or Stephen Hawking to figure it out. American University is expanding its stake in the sciences. With tight competition for research funding as well increased competition for talented, diverse faculty in the sciences, this is no elementary task. But AU is showing it can be done.

Want proof? During the first two weeks of February, AU experienced its own “big bang” of sorts of science-related happenings—including some that have been years (in one case, a full century) in the making.

1. AU Moves up in Carnegie Classification for Research—In the most recent Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, American University moved up to “Doctoral: Higher Research Activity” from “Doctoral: Moderate Research Activity.” AU’s move up the Carnegie Classification ladder is the result of strategic decisions at AU during the past several years to expand the number of doctoral programs—including those in the natural sciences (behavioral, cognitive, and neuroscience)—as well as the increase in externally-funded research productivity.

Read more about AU’s Carnegie Classification.

2. AU Researchers Contribute to Detection of Gravitational Waves 100 Years after Einstein’s Prediction—American University is a member of the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) Scientific Collaboration. AU currently is the sole university in Washington, D.C. to participate in LIGO and is led by Gregory Harry, assistant professor of physics. Recently and for the first time, LIGO scientists observed ripples in the fabric of space-time or gravitational waves. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity. “The detection of gravitational waves marks the beginning of a new way of observing the universe,” said Harry.

Read more about the discovery and AU’s contributions.

3. AU Hosts AJAS’s “Breakfast with the Scientists”—On Friday, February 12, high school students from across the nation congregated at AU to nosh, network, and gain some knowledge at the AJAS (American Junior Academy of Science) Breakfast with the Scientists.

A photo of Eric Lander of Harvard and MIT's Broad Institue with AJAS fellows at the

Eric Lander (center) with AJAS fellows at the 2016 "Breakfast with the Scientists" event, hosted at American University. Photo: Colella Digital.

The AJAS is the only honor research society for high school scientists in the United States. Every year, students selected to be AJAS fellows attend a conference that coincides with the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science's (AAAS) Conference.

Breakfast with the Scientists, one of the numerous AJAS conference events, gives young scientists the opportunity to tap into the brains of some of the most influential scientists in the world.

This year, American University hosted the 41st Breakfast with the Scientists.

“The students here are just so inspiring. I came away feeling very inspired by the six young women seated at my table,” said Eric Lander, founding director and a core member of the Broad Institute of MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Harvard University. “These impressive young scientists are going to use science and technology to improve the world.”

Lander is also one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project. Students flocked to talk to him, as well as the other 35 or so scientists from across the country, their specialties ranging from aquatic invertebrate ecology to theoretical computational physics. Six of the scientists were AU faculty members: Terry Davidson (psychology), Katie DeCicco-Skinner (biology), Monica Jackson (mathematics and statistics), Phil Johnson (physics), Kiho Kim (environmental science), and Art Shapiro (psychology and computer science).

The event was the perfect opportunity to highlight AU’s growth in the sciences. During his introductory remarks, President Neil Kerwin remarked that while AU is well-known for its programs in public affairs and policy, international studies, communication, business, the arts, and law, it is becoming a magnet for the next generation of scientific leaders.

“The fastest growing area of undergraduate studies at American University is in the sciences,” said Kerwin, noting that DC is home to some of the most impressive science organizations in the world. Kerwin also mentioned AU’s new, in-the-works science facilities, including the Don Myers Technology Innovation Building.

Charles Maus, a student at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, was impressed by the AU faculty members at the event. “I want to know more about their work,” he said.

The event also gave AJAS fellows the opportunity to talk to current AU science students who were on-hand to discuss their research posters.

See photos from 2016 Breakfast with the Scientists.

A photo of Bill Nye the Science Guy at American University on February 9, 2016.

Bill Nye the Science Guy at American University.

4. Bill Nye The Science Guy at AU—When Bill Nye the Science Guy took the stage at AU on February 9, he lived up to the hype. He made an impassioned case for science and knowledge, weaving insights about the universe with his own personal experiences. Nye’s presentation was replete with pictures, images, and info-graphics. With such a boisterous crowd, it felt more like a rock concert than a college lecture. As he said good night, the crowd chanted, “Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill!”

Read more about Bill Nye’s AU visit.