Three Duke faculty have been elected Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which recognizes individuals who have made outstanding and significant contributions to science.

The mission of AAAS is to “advance science, engineering and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.” Each year, fellows are nominated by the section steering group or AAAS peers based on their extraordinary achievements in areas such as research, teaching or communicating and interpreting science to the public. Nominated individuals must have been AAAS members for at least four years.  

David Kirsch, Trinity ‘93 and Barbara Levine University professor of radiation oncology and vice chair for basic and translational research, began his scientific career with a biology major at Duke. He then earned an M.D./Ph.D. degree from Johns Hopkins University, where he researched cell response to ionizing radiation and cell death mechanisms. He completed his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and post-doctoral research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he developed a genetically engineered mouse model of soft tissue sarcoma. In 2007, Kirsch returned to Duke to start his own lab and continued to use his mouse model. 

Kirsch works in the Duke Cancer Institute one day a week treating sarcoma patients with radiation therapy. The rest of the week, he works in his lab, which is currently researching the side effects of radiation therapy and how sarcomas develop and respond to different treatments. His lab is also working with the Cancer Institute to lead a clinical trial with radiation and immunotherapy for patients with high-risk soft tissue sarcoma. 

“Being elected a fellow of the AAAS is a great honor because our scientific accomplishments have been recognized by outstanding scientists,” Kirsch wrote in an email. “However, this honor is largely a reflection of the amazing scientists that I have been fortunate to work with throughout my research career including very talented technicians, graduate students, medical students and post-doctoral fellows at Duke.”

Thomas Mitchell-Olds, Newman Ivey White professor of biology, joined Duke’s faculty over ten years ago. He received his undergraduate degree from Earlham College and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prior to coming to Duke, Mitchell-Olds worked at the Max-Planck Institutes in Germany as an evolutionary geneticist. 

At Duke, his research focuses on the mechanisms of complex trait variation in plants. His lab studies genetic variations within a plant of a particular species in the Rocky Mountains—specifically, variations that focus on traits such as flowering, insect resistance and chemical production. Mitchell-Olds also studies trait variation of rice in developing areas in Asia and Africa, concentrating on food security for farmers growing crops for their family in an acre or less. 

Studying genetic variation for traits is important to human health because it can help explain the wide variety of genetic variation for complex diseases like diabetes or heart disease risk, Mitchell-Olds said. He explained that using plant species to study genetic variation is particularly useful because they can do experiments on thousands of individuals.

Mitchell-Olds has been a member of AAAS since graduate school and attends their meetings on advances in particular areas of science and the implications of science for society. He emphasized that science is a social endeavor that is done with other people, and his interactions with colleagues on campus help contribute to better science.

“It’s really important that the public has an increased understanding of science and how we make decisions based on evidence, and AAAS is very supportive of those sorts of things,” Mitchell-Olds said. “Making contributions in science is something you do day after day, year after year—being excited about a problem and building the parts of a puzzle that help make some advances. It’s a pleasure to be involved in these sorts of things and to be able to do it at Duke.”

Ana Barros, James L. Meriam professor of civil and environmental engineering, joined Duke’s faculty in 2004 after working at the University of O'Porto, Pennsylvania State University and Harvard University. She earned her undergraduate degree from the Faculty of Engineering of the University of O’Porto, her M.Sc. degree from OHSU/OGI School of Science and Engineering and her Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Washington, Seattle.

Barros began her research career in ocean engineering, particularly modeling estuaries on the coastal shelf. She then changed fields after she was offered a research assistantship to work in hydrology and atmospheric sciences, and she said that she does not regret the switch but still enjoys all ocean-related research. 

She studies how water moves in the atmosphere and over land at multiple scales and the role of water in its different phases and modes in climate, ecosystems and environmental health.

"Water is the essence of life, and indeed quality of life as we know it," she wrote in an email.

She has focused on water cycle processes in complex terrain, remote sensing and climate predictability. Currently, her lab is working on the role of mountains and land use on precipitation processes in the Himalayas and Appalachians. 

She said that she has been a member of AAAS since 1997 and was elected a member-at-large for the Water section six years ago. 

"I feel honored and thankful," she wrote of her election.