Two scientists from the University of Rochester were elected as fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world's largest federation of scientists. Elissa Newport and Richard Aslin, both professors of brain and cognitive sciences, were honored for their work in shedding light on the acquisition and development of language and cognition. The new fellows will be presented with a certificate at the Fellows Forum during the 2002 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston on Feb. 16.
Newport, chair of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and George Eastman Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, works to understand how children learn both spoken and sign languages to understand the language-learning process. She studies how children are able to grasp patterns and meanings without any formal instruction. Her research settled a once-controversial hypothesis that there are crucial periods in a child's development when they are "primed" to learn. Newport found that there is a distinct curve showing that fluent language skills arise when a child is exposed to the language very early. Even at age four, a child learning a new language will have noticeable differences from a native speaker.
Aslin, professor of brain and cognitive sciences, works toward understanding how normal development progresses in human infants and young children, ranging in age from one month to two years. His research attempts to reveal how infants make sense of the sights and sounds of the world around them, essentially giving babies specialized eye and hearing tests. He is also interested in how babies learn and form categories. For example, do they understand that a red ball and a green ball are both balls, and do they understand that the word "ball" spoken by a male and a female voice refer to the same object.
Founded in 1848, AAAS works to advance science for human well-being through its more than 138,000 members. The tradition of honoring those members who have excelled in their chosen fields began in 1874. AAAS publishes the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Science.