RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Two Triangle scientists, including a staff member of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, are among 10 honored today with prestigious fellowships from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The 10, all experts in technologies involving various aspects of human augmentation, were chosen from throughout the nation to be the 2019-2020 AAAS Alan I. Leshner Leadership Institute Public Engagement Fellows.

The group includes Tracey du Laney, Ph.D., director of science and technology development at NCBiotech, and Kafui Dzirasa, Ph.D., M.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University.

Photo courtesy AAAS

Tracey du Laney

The scientists and engineers chosen for this fourth annual class of Leshner Fellowships have demonstrated leadership and excellence in their research careers and an interest in promoting meaningful dialogue between science and society. They work in a diverse range of disciplines, including aerospace engineering, bioethics, biomedical engineering, chemistry, computer science, biological anthropology, psychiatry and behavioral sciences and synthetic biology.

As experts in the field of human augmentation, they study technologies designed to temporarily or permanently change the capabilities of the human body. Their work varies widely, from assistive technologies and wearable sensors to tattooing and antibiotics.

The fellows’ public engagement interests and approaches are also diverse and include online blogs, videos and discussions as well as traditional and social media, podcasts, documentaries, books, policy engagement, K-12 outreach and public science events and competitions. In addition to engaging the public in two-way dialogue about their research through such activities, they also will promote public engagement among their scientific colleagues and within their institutions.

“I actually learned in December that I’d been selected,” said du Laney. “I was surprised then, and remain excited. While my background is in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, my current role involves funding research rather than performing research. I’ve gone from growing blood vessels in the lab to helping transform academic inventions into commercial products.

“This fellowship gives me the opportunity to continue engaging the public, through the Biotech Center, and share my fascination with human augmentation. At the end of my fellowship year I plan to incorporate everything I’ve learned to produce a capstone event, exploring one aspect of human augmentation.”

Helping to turn ideas into products/companies

As a grant management specialist for NCBiotech, du Laney helps oversee funding designed to advance commercially promising scientific discoveries and technologies developed in N.C. colleges, universities, and non-profit institutions. These grants fill gaps that aren’t being addressed by other sources.

Photo courtesy AAAS

Kafui Dzirasa

du Laney holds a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Duke, a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from The University of Texas at Austin, and a Ph.D. in biochemical engineering from Duke.

Before joining the Biotech Center in October 2016, du Laney co-owned/co-founded a niche independent consulting firm in Research Triangle Park specializing in technology assessments and commercialization, grant writing and evaluation, due diligence, and entrepreneurship/start-up strategic planning for life science companies.

Du Laney and Dzirasa will join the eight other AAAS Leshner Fellows in June at AAAS headquarters in Washington, D.C. They’ll share a week of intensive public engagement and science communication training, networking and public engagement plan development. In the following year, the fellows will use these tools and networks to increase the impact of their engagement activities and their capacity for public engagement leadership. AAAS staff provide ongoing support and continuing professional development throughout their fellowship year.

“The focus of this year’s fellowship on human augmentation is particularly timely for me given the rapid advancements in human brain-machine interface that are just over the horizon,” said Dzirasa.

The AAAS Leshner Fellows program is part of the organization’s long-standing and still-growing commitment to science communication and public engagement.

The Leshner Leadership Institute was established in 2015 through philanthropic support. The Institute is managed by the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology, established in 2004 by Alan I. Leshner, now chief executive officer emeritus of AAAS.

Besides du Laney and Dzirasa, the other 2019-2020 AAAS Leshner Fellows are (full bios are available on the AAAS website):

Samira Kiani, M.D.; assistant professor of biological and health systems engineering, Arizona State University
Aaron Levine, Ph.D.; associate professor of public policy, Georgia Institute of Technology
Christopher D. Lynn, Ph.D.; associate professor of anthropology, University of Alabama
Oge Marques, Ph.D.; professor of computer science and engineering, Florida Atlantic University
Jin Kim Montclare, Ph.D.; professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, New York University
Robert Riener, Ph.D.; professor for sensory-motor systems, ETH Zurich
Leia Stirling, Ph.D.; assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Bill Wuest, Ph.D.; distinguished investigator and associate professor of chemistry, Emory University

(C) N.C. Biotechnology Center