Published: Jan. 26, 2022 By ,

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society, today announced that three CU Boulder researchers will join the ranks of its newest class of AAAS Fellows

CU Boulder faculty named to the prestigious fellows program are: Noah Finkelstein, professor and vice chair of the Department of Physics; Karl Linden, Mortenson Endowed Professor in Sustainable Development; and Brian Toon, professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and research scientist in the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). AAAS honored the researchers for their work studying everything from physics education and nuclear winter to using ultraviolet light to keep water supplies safe for drinking.  

Noah Finkelstein headshot

Noah Finkelstein. (Credit: Noah Finkelstein)

Brian Toon headshot

Brian Toon. (Credit: CU Boulder)

Karl Linden in his lab

Karl Linden. (Credit: CU Boulder College of Engineering and Applied Science)

The 2021 class of fellows draws from 564 scientists from across the country. Nearly 30 other scientists from CU Boulder have also received this honor since the late 1970s.  

“AAAS is proud to bestow the honor of AAAS Fellow to some of today’s brightest minds who are integral to forging our path into the future,” said Sudip Parikh, AAAS chief executive and executive publisher of the Science family of journals, in a statement. “We celebrate these distinguished individuals for their invaluable contributions to the scientific enterprise.”

Terri Fiez, vice chancellor for Research and Innovation at CU Boulder, saluted Finkelstein, Linden and Toon for their new achievements.

“We are thrilled that AAAS is honoring these three pioneering researchers,” Fiez said. “They epitomize CU Boulder’s commitment to research that can improve the lives of people around the world, and to ensuring that this spirit of excellence and innovation translates into education and opportunities for our undergraduates, graduate students and postdocs.”

A lifelong educator

Finkelstein likes to say he has been teaching continuously since he was 12. He first shared his knowledge of Hebrew and computer programming with younger kids through summer camp programs in the early 1980s.

Today, AAAS has recognized Finkelstein’s work in “establishing and advancing the fields of physics education research and institutional transformation in STEM education with an inclusive mindset.”

Finkelstein explores how students learn about physics—and how educators can improve the experiences of budding scientists in their classrooms. He’s studied how college physics classrooms can be more inclusive for women and people of color who are historically underrepresented in the field. In particular, Finkelstein said he wants STEM classrooms to be about more than just memorizing facts.

“If I could snap my fingers and do one thing, it would be to support people in broadening our definition of what education is,” Finkelstein said. “Education is also about socializing individuals so that students coming out of classes think of themselves as science capable and engaged– so that our majors can walk and talk like physicists. They can not only recognize and apply Schrodinger’s Equation but also make sense of it.”

Finkelstein serves as one of the directors of the Physics Education Research group at CU Boulder. He was also a founding co-director of the Center for STEM Learning and sits on the Board of Trustees for the national Higher Learning Commission. He received his doctorate from Princeton University and joined the CU Boulder faculty in 2003.

Clouds overhead

Toon has long had an eye on the skies. AAAS honored the scientist “for fundamental contributions toward understanding the role of clouds and aerosols in the climates of Earth and other planets, and for warning the world of the dangers of nuclear weapons.”

Throughout his career, Toon has examined “virtually every cloud and aerosol system in the solar system and some on exoplanets.”

He’s delved into how the plumes from massive volcanic eruptions and wildfires can influence Earth’s climate and studied the potential dangers of nuclear warfare. Toon and his colleagues previously discovered even a relatively small-scale nuclear conflict could kill tens of millions of people and wreak havoc on food crops across the planet. 

“This work influenced the recent United Nations agreement to ban nuclear weapons globally as land mines, biological weapons and poison gases have been banned in the past,” Toon said.

Toon earned his doctorate from Cornell University and has been at CU Boulder since 1997. Among other achievements, Toon received NASA Medals for Exceptional Scientific Achievement in 1983 and 1989 and was one of the lead scientists who contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. 

Read a Q&A with Brian Toon

Clean water to drink

Linden, professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering, works to help rural communities, municipalities and other entities to control the spread of harmful pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2 in air, on surfaces and in water.

He is acknowledged by AAAS “for distinguished contributions to the field of water treatment engineering, particularly using ultraviolet light for pathogen disinfection and abatement of organic contaminants in water reuse.”  

Municipal and industrial water treatment facilities around the world use ultraviolet disinfection to eliminate harmful pathogens like E. coli and Giardia from water supplies in seconds. Linden, however, wants to go smaller—creating nimble and durable technologies that rural communities and countries with limited resources can use to treat their own water supplies. 

Linden leads a five-year, $15.3-million project called the Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership through the Mortenson Center in Global Engineering at CU Boulder. In 2020, he won the Borchardt-Glysson Water Treatment Innovation Prize and was named the Clarke Prize Laureate for outstanding achievement in water science and technology.

“I am so honored to become a fellow of AAAS—an organization at the forefront of defending the integrity of science, promoting science-based policy and decision making, strengthening diversity in science and advocating for educational and career opportunities in science and technology,” Linden said.