Published: Nov. 24, 2020

Anthropologist J. Terrence McCabe and physicist Konrad Lehnert recognized for advancing science or its applications

A University of Colorado Boulder anthropologist studying people in East Africa and a physicist advancing quantum science have been named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the group announced today.

J. Terrence McCabe, professor of anthropology, and Konrad Lehnert, professor adjoint of physics at CU Boulder, are among 489 members recognized this year for their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.

Photograph of McCabe

At the top of the page: Turkana women prepare the fields to make them ready before the floods come (Loes van der Pluijm/Wikimedia Commons). Above: J. Terrence McCabe in the rangelands of East Africa.

McCabe, who also directs the Environment and Society Program at the university’s Institute of Behavioral Science, was recognized for “distinguished contributions to anthropology, particularly for understanding how people adapt to arid rangelands of East Africa, and how they cope with changing socioeconomic conditions.”

McCabe joined the CU Boulder faculty in 1989 and is the author of two books on the Turkana people of Africa: South Turkana Nomadism: Coping with an Unpredictably Varying Environment and Cattle Bring Us to Our Enemies: Turkana Ecology, History, and Raiding in a Disequilibrium System.

Cattle Bring Us to Our Enemies won the 2005 Julian Steward Award from the Anthropology and Environment Society for the best book in ecological and environmental anthropology.

McCabe said the recognition “means a lot to me.” He noted that he’s taken a “somewhat unusual path” for a cultural anthropologist.

“Throughout my career I have participated in interdisciplinary teams of anthropologists, ecologists, geographers and other scientists. Most of this work has focused on how people in the rangelands of East Africa have adapted and coped with rapid and often unpredictable climatic, environmental, social and political change,” McCabe said, adding:

“I have learned a lot from my colleagues, and even more from the African people who have let me into their lives and have given generously of their time and incredible knowledge of the ecosystems in which they live.”

Lehnert, who is also a fellow at JILA, a joint institute of CU Boulder and the U.S. National Institute of Standards & Technology, was recognized for “pioneering contributions to quantum science, particularly quantum control and measurement of mechanical oscillators, and sub-quantum limited measurement with applications to dark matter searches.”


Konrad Lehnert is among the 489 members recognized this year by the AAAS.

Lehnert joined the CU Boulder and JILA faculty in 2003 after having served as a postdoctoral research associate at the Yale University Applied Physics Department. He was named a fellow of the American Physical Society in 2013 and, with fellow CU Boulder physicist Cindy Regal, won the Governor’s Award for High-Impact Research in 2016. 

This year, Lehnert was one of eight scientists to win a Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Defense. The award carries $3 million for each winner to pursue cutting-edge fundamental research projects, and Lehnert's focus is quantum phononic sciences.

Asked for his reaction to being named an AAAS fellow, Lehnert said: “I think of the fellowship as recognizing of the accomplishments of the more than 40 students, post-docs and visiting scientists who have come from around the world to advance science by studying and working with me at the University of Colorado.”

Founded in 1848, the AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science, as well as Science Translational Medicine; Science Signaling; a digital, open-access journal, Science Advances; Science Immunology; and Science Robotics.

Election as an AAAS fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers. McCabe and Lehnert are among 45 CU Boulder active faculty to hold this distinction.

A virtual fellows forum—an induction ceremony for the new fellows—will be held on Feb. 13, 2021.

The tradition of AAAS fellows began in 1874. Currently, members can be considered for the rank of fellow if nominated by the steering groups of the association’s 24 sections, or by any three fellows who are current AAAS members (so long as two of the three sponsors are not affiliated with the nominee’s institution), or by the AAAS chief executive officer.

The lifetime designation of “fellow” has gone to thousands of distinguished scientists, such as inventor Thomas Edison, elected in 1878, sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois (1905), anthropologist Margaret Mead (1934), computer scientist Grace Hopper (1963), physicist Steven Chu (2000) and astronaut Ellen Ochoa (2012).