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Three Rochester faculty join ranks of AAAS fellows

THREE'S COMPANY: University of Rochester faculty members Gilbert (Rip) Collins, Douglas Portman, and Michael Welte are among the newest fellows elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, one of the world’s largest general scientific societies. (University of Rochester illustration / Michael Osadciw)

This is the first time since 2009 that three faculty members have been elected in one year.

Three University of Rochester faculty members have been elected as 2023 fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS):

    • Gilbert (Rip) Collins for “distinguished contributions to Condensed Matter Physics, particularly for his seminal groundbreaking work in high energy density science of matter at extreme pressures.”
    • Douglas Portman for “distinguished contributions to the field of behavioral neuroscience, particularly for elucidating mechanisms of sexual dimorphism of behavior, and for outstanding mentoring of the next generation of neuroscientists.”
    • Michael Welte for “fundamental contributions in cell biology to identify and understand multiple functions of cytoplasmic lipid droplets and the dynamics and regulation of their movement.”

Formed in 1848, AAAS is the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society and the publisher of leading research through its Science family of journals. Designation as an AAAS fellow is a distinguished lifetime honor within the scientific community. The latest class comprises 502 scientists, engineers, and innovators across 24 AAAS disciplinary sections.

Rochester faculty are regularly elected as AAAS fellows, but this is the first time since 2009 that three faculty members have been elected in one year. Learn more about the faculty members and the scientific contributions that merited this distinction.

Gilbert (Rip) Collins: Exploring the most extreme states of matter achievable on Earth

Gilbert (Rip) Collins, who joined the University in 2016, serves as the Tracy Hyde Harris Professor of Mechanical Engineering, a professor of physics and astronomy, and an associate director of science, technology, and academics at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE).

Collins is director of the Center for Matter at Atomic Pressures (CMAP), a National Science Foundation (NSF) Physics Frontier Center hosted at the University. In collaboration with researchers at MIT, Princeton, the Universities of California at Berkeley and Davis, the University at Buffalo, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, CMAP focuses on understanding the physics and astrophysical implications of matter under pressures so high that the structure of individual atoms is disrupted.

Collins also leads the Institute for Matter at Extreme Energy Density (IMAXED), which studies fundamental and applied high-energy-density physics, including undergraduate and graduate coursework and experimental and theoretical research. The interdisciplinary program bridges multiple disciplines, working closely with the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Department of Physics and Astronomy, LLE, CMAP, and the Planetary Science program, and with the Extreme Quantum Matter program funded by Office of Fusion Energy Science.

He has chaired national and international conferences on research related to high-pressure physics and plasma science, including the Gordon Research Conference on Research at High Pressure and the American Physical Society (APS) Topic Group on Shock Compression of Condensed Matter.

Collins earned a PhD from Ohio State University. He is a Bridgman Award winner and an APS fellow who has received the society’s award for Excellence in Plasma Physics. He has appeared on the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, and the National Geographic TV series Cosmos, among other media outlets.

Before Rochester, Collins held appointments at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he was the director of the Center for High Energy Density Physics and a distinguished member of the lab’s technical staff. He holds a visiting professorship in physics at Oxford University and the University of Edinburgh. His national service includes participation in the recent National Academy of Sciences report for high-energy-density science, and the Science Advisory Committees for the Oxford Physics Department, the Linac Coherent Light Source, the Shock Physics Institute at Imperial College, and the Shock Physics Institute at Washington State University.

Douglas Portman: Using C. elegans to understand the role of genes and innate behavior

Douglas Portman is the Donald M. Foster, MD Distinguished Professor in Biomedical Genetics and a professor of neuroscience and biology. His research aims to find genetic underpinnings of sex differences in the development and function of neural circuits.

By using the model system C. elegans (roundworms), the Portman Lab has made important discoveries related to the role that genes play in sculpting innate behavior, including that male roundworms will choose sex over food and that modulation of sensory perception plays an important role in bringing flexibility to decision-making.

Portman, who joined the University of Rochester Medical Center in 2003, earned a PhD in molecular biology from the University of Pennsylvania. He is the director of the Biomedical Genetics and Genomics Graduate Program, and has also served as the director of the admissions committee for the Neuroscience Graduate Program. Portman has been a panel chair for the National Institutes of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award fellowship program for predoctoral students.

Portman has received numerous honors including the Mentoring of Basic Science Trainees Award and the Graduate Student Society Faculty Award at Rochester. He is a member of the board of reviewing editors for eLife and has served on numerous review panels for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation, and many international funding agencies. He is active in various professional organizations, including the Genetics Society of America and Society for Neuroscience. Portman’s research has been featured in prominent peer-reviewed journals such as Current Biology, Developmental Cell, and eLife. Research in his laboratory is currently supported by a prestigious R35 Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences Research of the NIH.

Michael Welte: Pioneering research on the cell biology of lipid droplets

Michael Welte, a professor in the Department of Biology, is being honored by AAAS for “fundamental contributions in cell biology,” particularly his investigation into the roles and behaviors of lipid droplets. Lipid droplets are organelles within cells that store fats and other lipids, playing crucial roles in energy metabolism, lipid storage, and cell signaling.

Welte employs Drosophila (fruit flies) as model organisms to study the formation and functions of lipid droplets, including: how lipid droplets are transported and regulated within cells; how lipid droplets contribute to animal development; and how lipid droplets modulate diverse cellular processes relevant to diseases such as obesity, diabetes, fatty liver disease, and neurogenerative diseases. The research sheds light on fundamental aspects of cell biology, paving the way for new therapeutic approaches targeting lipid-related diseases.

Welte joined the Rochester faculty in 2007. He earned a PhD in molecular genetics and cell biology from the University of Chicago. Prior to Rochester, Welte held appointments as an assistant professor at Brandeis University and as a research associate at Princeton University. He has also held positions as a visiting scientist at the University of Kassel in Germany and at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He has received numerous awards, including the Kimmel Scholar Award from the Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research and a predoctoral fellowship from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Welte is a member of various professional organizations, including the American Society for Cell Biology and the Genetics Society of America. His research has been featured in prominent peer-reviewed journals such as PLoS Genetics, Current Biology, Cell, and the Journal of Cell Biology.

Reporting by Luke Auburn, Kelsie Smith-Hayduk, and Lindsey Valich.

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