Three Georgia Tech Professors Named 2022 AAAS Fellows
Professor Loren Wiliams holds a lecture in Howey Physics.
A trio of Georgia Tech professors has joined the ranks among the nation’s most distinguished leaders in science, engineering, and innovation, as Marion Usselman, Loren Williams, and Samuel Graham have been named American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellows for 2022.
The world’s largest general scientific society, AAAS has been awarding the honor since 1874. With the addition of Usselman, Williams, and Graham, nearly 100 Georgia Tech professors have been recognized for their achievements. In total, the AAAS Class of 2022 features 506 individuals following in the footsteps of past honorees including sociologist and civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois, astronaut Ellen Ochoa, Nobel laureate Steven Chu, and computer programming pioneer Grace Hopper.
Marion Usselman – Education
Honored for distinguished contributions to gender equity in universities and major contributions to curriculum and teacher professional development.
Marion Usselman, a principal research scientist in the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC), arrived at Georgia Tech in 1996 with a Ph.D. in Biophysics from The Johns Hopkins University and a passion for improving education and access in typically white male-dominated STEM fields. At that time women made up just 28% of the Institute’s undergraduate population. She has spent the last 26 years working diligently to help increase that number and give the next generation of women and other historically underserved populations a true seat at the STEM table.
As part of the Integrating Gender Equity and Reform NSF project, Usselman and her colleagues conducted an in-depth Georgia Tech institutional self-study that examined the barriers that women and minorities faced when choosing their career path, as well as the methods used in the classroom that may have influenced their choices. The results of the study, and of many subsequent educational projects, showed Usselman that there was plenty of work to be done, particularly in the K-12 arena.
To that end, Usselman has spearheaded the effort to reform K-12 STEM education in Georgia and nationally, leading up a CEISMC team dedicated to designing and developing educational innovations. She’s co-authored over 60 refereed journal and conference papers and brought in more than $40 million in funding as the primary writer on over 20 funded STEM-education grant proposals. In addition, her team has created extensive curriculum materials for K-12 students and teachers, particularly in the engineering and computer science areas, and implemented many STEM-related professional learning opportunities for K-12 teachers.
“My team has spent the last 15 to 20 years designing curricular exemplars, based on well-established research on how people learn and factors that encourage a sense of belonging and identity, so that teachers can try out inclusive methods of instruction and experience success in engaging students who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields,” she said. “It is important to change teachers’ hearts and minds, but we believe that is best done by giving them something to try that works, not by lecturing. Because that is how people learn.”
Loren Williams – Biological Sciences
Honored for distinguished contributions to the fields of biophysics and the origins and evolution of life on Earth, particularly for advancing our understanding of the evolution of the translation system.
Loren Williams was content in his work as a crystallographer, but when he began studying new ribosome structures at the turn of the century, he found a true passion for uncovering the origins of life on Earth and set out on a path that has now earned him the distinction of becoming an AAAS Fellow.
While its basic function is to produce proteins, Williams noticed that the ribosome could offer a previously unseen look into the past. While he admittedly didn’t know much about evolution at the time, Williams couldn’t shake his curiosity surrounding the similarities in bacterial and archaeal ribosomes across the span of nearly 4 billion years.
“Ninety percent of everything became boring from that point on, because all of a sudden what I was looking at was small. I and I kept going for a couple years, but in my head, I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’ I just thought, ‘OK, I don't know what to do.’ I just kept staring at the ribosome,” Williams said.
Continuing his award-winning and NASA-funded research as “a scientist in a sea of engineers at Georgia Tech,” Williams explained that the translation system unites all living things and predates LUCA — the last universal common ancestor — while serving as a molecular time machine.
“It's been frozen ever since. So, if we can understand the origins and evolution of the translation system, we are looking back before LUCA, which is really looking back to the origin of life,” he said. “In my lab over the last 15 years, we have worked out how to understand the evolution of the ribosome, which is kind of like a movie of the origin of life and we're slowly looking at it frame by frame and figuring out how to do that.”
Williams' initial interest in the structures superseded his desire to receive grants or publish papers, and at the time, he didn't see the makings of a viable research program. Nevertheless, despite some initial rejection, Williams pressed on, and now, as an AAAS Fellow can now reflect on the gamble he took.
"I feel like I've kind of come back from the dead in a way, and it's a nice feeling because I really thought I was finished," he said. "Science is a funny business."
Samuel Graham Jr. – Engineering
Honored for developing optical/electrical methods and models to characterize thermal response/properties of wide bandgap electronics including RF and power electronics and for developing chip-embedded cooling for high heat flux operation.
Graham is being recognized for his cutting-edge research into the thermal characterization and thermal management of gallium nitride-based wide bandgap semiconductors used in radio frequency communications, solid-state lighting, and power electronics. His work has been instrumental in numerous Department of Defense and industrial programs in the development of these technologies, and he was recently recognized with the 2022 ASME Allan Kraus Thermal Management Medal and the 2022 Hawkins Memorial Lecture in Heat Transfer at Purdue University.
Graham served as the Eugene C. Gwaltney Jr. School Chair for the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech, where he remains a professor, while also serving as dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland. He holds a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Tech, a place that allowed him to fulfill his childhood dream.
“I am honored to be recognized as a fellow of AAAS. Moreover, I am thankful for my students and collaborators throughout my career that have made my work enjoyable and have inspired me to make an impact on technologies that will benefit society. I wish to say thank you to AAAS and am happy to support its mission to advance science for the benefit of all,” he said.
Graham also serves on several advisory boards to advance science and engineering. This includes serving as chair of the Emerging Technologies Technical Advisory Committee in the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Engineering Science Research Foundation of Sandia National Laboratories, the AT SCALE initiative at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations.
Professor and 2022 AAAS Fellow Loren Williams teaching a physics course.
Professor Loren Wiliams holds a lecture in Howey Physics.