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3 University of Arizona professors named AAAS Fellows

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WASHINGTON DC — Three University of Arizona professors were named AAAS Fellows by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on Wednesday.

The trio are among a group of 565 scientists, engineers and innovators across all scientific disciplines to earn the distinction from AAAS, the Washington, DC-based General Science Society and publisher of the Science family of journals.

The UA professors who earned the distinction were: Elizabeth “Betsy” Arnold, Professor of Plant Science, Carol Gregorio, Professor and Head of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, and Cecile McKee, Professor of Linguistics.

“AAAS is proud to bestow the honor of AAAS Fellow on some of today’s brightest minds who are integral to our journey into the future,” said AAAS Chief Executive Officer Sudip Parikh. and Executive Editor of the Science family of journals. “We celebrate these distinguished individuals for their invaluable contributions to the scientific enterprise.”

Arnold is recognized for her contributions to the field of ecology and evolution, particularly for her studies of plant microbiomes in wild and agricultural ecosystems, an AU spokesperson said.

In 2005, Arnold began as a faculty member at UA and as curator of the university’s Robert L. Gilbertson Mycological Herbarium, a role she still holds today.

She led an effort to digitize, expand and preserve the Gilbertson Herbarium in addition to contributing to research, teaching, mentoring, outreach and service.

Arnold has published over 140 peer-reviewed articles and for the past five years has served as editor of Mycologia, the flagship journal of the Mycological Society of America.

“There are millions of fungal species on Earth, but we’ve only described about 100,000,” Arnold said. “Each plant harbors tremendous biodiversity waiting to be discovered. In many cases, these fungi can be used to make new medicines or agricultural tools for sustainability.”

Gregorio, who joined the UA faculty in 1996, is honored for her internationally recognized contributions to understanding the structure, function and disease of the heart and skeletal muscles, according to the university.

In addition to directing the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Gregorio is Co-Director of the Sarver Heart Center, Director of the Molecular Cardiovascular Research Program, Professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Associate Vice Provost for Global Health Sciences and a member of the BIO5 Institute.

Gregorio said she loved the beauty of her science.

“Muscles work by sliding against each other – their structure is very regular,” Gregorio said. “The same mechanisms that cause a heart to contract cause cells to move during processes such as cancer metastasis, but because the striated muscle is so well aligned, you can see and watch the muscle filaments move, which would be impossible if it wasn’t so well organised.”

McKee is a professor in the Department of Linguistics at UA and, according to AAAS, she is recognized for: “(her) distinguished contributions to developmental psycholinguistics, particularly experimental design to demonstrate children’s knowledge of syntax, and for distinguished service in promoting public awareness of the importance of linguistic study.

McKee’s studies have focused on children’s language development, recently focusing on how quickly and fluently they speak. McKee has also developed innovative ways to examine complex syntax in young children.

“For much of my research, I wanted to see if children knew anything about their language that was either very rare or very complex,” McKee said. “And, so, I spent a lot of time developing new ways to engage 2-year-olds in experiments to probe their grammatical knowledge.”

McKee added: “The reason that matters is that various contrasting theories care a great deal about this early ending. Once a child is about 3 or 4 years old, syntactically, they are pretty much done. We find that they behave like adults in some experiments.”

For many years, McKee – often accompanied by a team of students – has been active in public engagement at K-12 schools, science and cultural festivals, including Science City at the Tucson Festival of Books and Tucson Meet Yourself.

She has also collaborated with the Children’s Museum Tucson, as part of a UA class offering special engagement opportunities for undergraduate students.