Aerial view of the California Academy of Sciences

California Academy of Sciences welcomes new Fellows. (© 2008 Tim Griffith)


SAN FRANCISCO, CA (September 28, 2021) — The California Academy of Sciences is pleased to announce that 14 new members will join the ranks of the Academy Fellows, a governing group of more than 450 distinguished scientists and other leaders who have made notable contributions to science or science education and communication. Nominated by their colleagues and selected by the Board of Trustees, the Academy Fellows are partners and collaborators in the pursuit of the Academy’s mission to regenerate the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration. The new members will be inducted during the Fellowship's next meeting on October 5, 2021. They will join such well-known Academy Fellows as Sylvia Earle, Paul Ehrlich, Jane Lubchenco, Zeray Alemseged, John McCosker, Jill Tarter, and Andrea Ghez.

During the meeting, the Fellowship will present one of its members with the Academy’s highest honor: the Fellows Medal. This honor is given to especially prominent scientists who have made outstanding contributions to their specific scientific fields. Medalists are nominated each year by the Academy Fellows and confirmed by the Board of Trustees. This year's Fellows Medal will be awarded to Dr. Tyrone Hayes, a biologist who has made groundbreaking discoveries on the adverse health effects and environmental impacts of chemical contaminants. His research uncovering that the herbicide atrazine disrupts hormone cycles in amphibians sparked important conversations about the impact of pesticides and other chemicals on the natural world. Hayes also works to address environmental racism, presenting on the health disparities experienced by minority and low-income populations at lectures across the country.

The fellowship will also present the Distinguished Service Award, an honor that is given to scientists, staff, or other colleagues who have made critical contributions to the Academy itself. This year’s award recipients are Dr. Meg Burke and Dr. Deb Trock. For more than 20 years, Burke has combined her expertise in science and education to help the Academy advance biodiversity discovery and conservation, produce award-winning educational content, and develop lasting partnerships with collaborators at Academy research sites around the world. Trock’s leadership as both the first Director of Science Collections and a long-serving Senior Collections Manager of Botany has been essential to ensuring that the Academy’s scientific collections remain world-class, providing countless scientists with the necessary specimens to conduct their research.

Brief biographies for the Fellows Medalist and Distinguished Service Awardees as well as each of the new Fellows are included below.

Recipient of the 2021 Fellows Medal

Tyrone Hayes, PhD
Professor and Judy Chandler Webb Distinguished Chair for Innovative Teaching and Research
Department of Integrative Biology
University of California, Berkeley

Dr. Hayes’ research focuses on the role of hormones in reproductive development and function in amphibians. The impact of environmental chemical contaminants that interfere with hormone synthesis and function—endocrine disruptors—is a major focus. His broader goal is to explore the role of endocrine disruptors in amphibian declines and to address implications for environmental health and public health, in general, with a specific focus on environmental justice and environmental racism.

Recipients of the 2020 Distinguished Service Award

Deb Trock, PhD
Emeritus Director of Science Collections
Senior Collections Manager, Department of Botany
California Academy of Sciences

Dr. Trock’s research focuses on the genus Packera spp. and its position within the Tribe Senecioneae (Asteraceae). She produced the treatment of this genus for the Flora of North America (FNA), as well as treatments for 10 other genera. She has contributed regional treatments for the Floras of Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, California and the San Juan Basin. In addition to her role as an author, she also served for 6 years on the Editorial Board for FNA. Trock has also been involved in a leadership role with the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, a professional organization dedicated to the preservation, conservation and management of natural history collections. Dr. Trock retired in June 2020 after serving as the Senior Collections Manager of Botany since 2005 and Director of Science Collections since 2015. In these roles she greatly advanced the global renown and impact of the Academy’s herbarium as well as the safety and strategic future of Academy scientific collections overall.

Meg Burke, PhD
Research Associate and Emeritus Associate Dean of Science Operations
California Academy of Sciences

Dr. Burke retired in July 2021 as the Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability (IBSS) Associate Dean of Science Operations after 23 years at the Academy, spanning both Education and Research. She played pivotal roles in the creation of the new Academy, in programmatic fundraising, in strengthening or creating numerous Education programs, and was PI or Co-PI on multiple NSF grants, including the $2.5M Water is Life grant that helped build the cornerstone exhibits of the new Aquarium. She has participated in Philippine coral reef expeditions since 2006, leading the Academy’s educational outreach and community engagement efforts. Dr. Burke helped improve IBSS financial, programmatic and personnel processes, working closely with partners in Accounting, Development, Finance, HR, Operations, and Public Engagement & Education.

New Academy Fellows

Aaron A. Velasco, PhD
Professor, Department of Earth, Environmental, and Resource Sciences University of Texas at El Paso
State Seismologist, Railroad Commission of Texas

Dr. Velasco is a Professor of Geological Sciences at University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). In addition to his roles as an educator and an active researcher, he serves as the State Seismologist of Texas for the Railroad Commission of Texas. He has worked at Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories and in industry before his current position at UTEP. Dr. Velasco’s current research projects include investigating earthquake interactions, aftershock locations in Nepal and Mexico, crustal structure in the southwest U.S., forensic seismology, induced seismicity, and on data/model fusion techniques. He has also been an advocate for improving diversity in science.

Aradhna Tripati, PhD
Professor of Geoscience
University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. Tripati’s research examines Earth’s climate evolution. She harnesses state-of-the-art chemical tracers, primarily carbonate clumped isotope geochemistry. Her contributions include developing new isotopic tracers, applying them to study the water cycle, and studying lapse rate and oceanographic changes in the tropical Pacific. Other work includes constraining surface and deep ocean temperatures during major carbon emissions, and polar climate evolution. Her work validates model predictions of the past to improve their robustness for use in projections of the future. She is a passionate advocate for equity and justice in STEM and society, and the founding director of the Center for Diverse Leadership in Science.

Damian Octavio Elias, PhD
Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management
University of California, Berkeley

Dr. Elias’ research focuses on the mechanisms that guide animal behavior and how these mechanisms relate to behavioral adaptation and evolution. His work covers a variety of topics (communication, mate choice, species diversification) across animal systems (ranging from spiders to birds) and scales (ranging from physics to phylogenetics). By studying the diversity of animal behavior through multiple lenses, Elias’ work aims to explore both biological principles and how bias influences the study and interpretation of animal behavior. As a faculty member, Elias strives to create opportunities that promote justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in academic and research spaces.

David Burgess, PhD
Professor of Biology
Boston College

Dr. Burgess is a cell biologist who studies the cytoskeleton and its role in cell division and intracellular movements. He has published over 100 research articles and received the E. E. Just Award from the American Society for Cell Biology. Burgess is an elected Fellow of the American Society for Cell Biology and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where he is a past chair for the Section of Biological Sciences. He served as President of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, where he was also honored as a Founder and Elder. He speaks regularly on mentoring underrepresented students.

Karen E. Sears, PhD
Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology
University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. Sears’ research harnesses the diversity that exists in mammals to explore the developmental rules that shape evolution and provide insights into human health. Her research is expansive, both in terms of the animals she studies, the biological scales at which she investigates, and the worldwide locations at which she works. Beyond her own research, Dr. Sears actively promotes her field and its members through diverse service efforts, including her role as founding member and past-President of the Pan-American Society for Evolutionary Developmental Biology. An academic child of the museum system, Dr. Sears is also an advocate of collections’ critical importance to the future of biological research.

Lara M. Kueppers, PhD
Associate Professor, Energy and Resources Group
University of California, Berkeley
Faculty Scientist, Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Dr. Kueppers is an ecosystem scientist whose research bridges the fields of ecology and Earth system modeling to better understand the complex coupling between climate and ecosystems, and to inform policy and management. She is an Associate Professor in the interdisciplinary Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley and a Faculty Scientist in the Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. She holds MS and BS degrees from Stanford University and a PhD from UC Berkeley, and previously held a faculty appointment at UC Merced.

Maria Elena Zavala, PhD
Professor of Biology
California State University, Northridge

Dr. Zavala’s research focuses on the developmental regulation of plants including root growth and seed filling. Humankind relies on plants for food, fodder, housing, and medicine. Climate change poses a threat to food security because of the changes in weather patterns and crops’ access to water and nutrients. A stronger, more prolific, root system enhances productivity and decreases the inputs needed to produce high yielding crops. Dr. Zavala also works on broadening participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Her work in this realm focuses on preparing people who have been marginalized, as well as providing them access to opportunities in STEM. Her work as a mentor and successfully initiating and leading training programs has been recognized locally, regionally, and nationally.

Marigold Linton, PhD
Former Director, American Indian Outreach
University of Kansas
Former President, Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science

Dr. Linton, Cahuilla-Cupeno, was raised on California’s Morongo Reservation. Her research for the last 40 years has focused on very long-term memory. She taught psychology at San Diego State University and University of Utah. She served as an administrator helping American Indian populations at Arizona State University and the University of Kansas. She received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring from President Obama in 2011. She served on the board of directors of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, National Science Foundation’s Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering, and the National Academies, Policy and Global Affairs Division’s Oversight Committee.

Michael Boots, PhD
Professor, Department of Integrative Biology
University of California, Berkeley

Dr. Boots works on the ecology and evolution of infectious disease, developing and testing theory in a range of human and wildlife diseases from the lab to the field. He has held Fellowships from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, The Royal Society, The European Union, The Natural Environmental Research Council, The Leverhulme Trust, and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, as well as professorships at the University of Sheffield, Exeter, and, currently, UC Berkeley. His core research interest is in how ecology and evolution interact to drive disease emergence, virulence, and host defense.

Pim Bongaerts, PhD
McCosker Chair of Aquatic Biology and Curator of Invertebrate Zoology
California Academy of Sciences

Dr. Bongaerts is the McCosker Chair of Aquatic Biology and a Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. He studies the biodiversity and evolution of tropical reef corals, from close to the surface to well into mesophotic depths. He combines genomics and novel underwater imaging methods to understand how corals diversify and adapt to different and changing environmental conditions. Bongaerts is also one of the most published researchers on mesophotic coral ecosystems, with his work having led to foundational insights and international awareness around these understudied ecosystems.

Robert L. Bettinger, PhD
Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology
University of California, Davis

Dr. Bettinger conducted his early fieldwork in California and the Great Basin. He continues to work there but has since 1989 broadened his interests to include the archaeology of China, Siberia, and Argentina. This research centers on hunter-gatherers: the study of hunter-gatherer adaptations, their expression in marginal environments (alpine and desert), their intensification, and connection with early agriculture. Bettinger’s theoretical contributions to cultural ecology, quantitative methods, and evolutionary theory are directed to general models of hunter-gatherer behavior that can be applied in a wide range of archaeological and ethnographic contexts. Professional awards include the 2016 Society for American Archaeology Book Award.

Scott D. Sampson, PhD
Executive Director and William R. and Gretchen B. Kimball Chair
California Academy of Sciences

Dr. Sampson is a vertebrate paleontologist whose research has focused on the ecology and evolution of Late Cretaceous dinosaurs from North America and Africa. He has published numerous scientific and popular articles and authored multiple books, including How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015). He is a well-known science communicator with multiple television credits, including on- air host and science advisor of the Emmy-nominated PBS KIDS television series Dinosaur Train, produced by the Jim Henson Company. He has served as Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences since the fall of 2019.

Shang-Ping Xie, PhD
Distinguished Professor of Climate Science
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
University of California, San Diego

Dr. Xie holds the Roger Revelle Chair at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. He uses observations and mathematical models to study coupled ocean-atmosphere dynamics of climate variability and climate change. His work contributes to answering such fundamental questions as what determines the spatio-temporal variations of climate, how predictable climate is, and how climate will change in the face of increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases. He is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and American Meteorological Society, which recognized his research in ocean-atmosphere interactions with the Sverdrup Gold Medal.

Stephanie Carlson, PhD
Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
University of California, Berkeley

Dr. Carlson is a professor of fish ecology at UC Berkeley, where she currently holds the A.S. Leopold Chair in Wildlife Biology. She earned her BS from UC Davis and PhD from the University of Washington. She was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Santa Cruz before joining the faculty at UC Berkeley in 2008. Carlson’s research centers on responses of fish and freshwater biodiversity to environmental variation and change, including drought. She received the Young Investigator’s Prize from the American Society of Naturalists in 2010 and was selected to deliver the Distinguished Lecture by a Faculty in her home department in 2021. She is dedicated to combating racism and oppression in the Academy and beyond. 

About the California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences is a renowned scientific and educational institution with a mission to regenerate the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration. Based in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, it is home to a world-class aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum, as well as innovative programs in scientific research and environmental education—all under one living roof. Museum hours are 9:30 am – 5:00 pm Monday – Saturday, and 11:00 am – 5:00 pm on Sunday. Admission includes all exhibits, programs, and shows. For daily ticket prices, please visit or call (415) 379-8000 for more information.

About Research at the California Academy of Sciences

The Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences is at the forefront of efforts to understand two of the most important topics of our time: the nature and sustainability of life on Earth. Based in San Francisco, the Institute is home to more than 100 world-class scientists, state-of-the-art facilities, and nearly 46 million scientific specimens from around the world. The Institute also leverages the expertise and efforts of more than 100 international Associates and 450 distinguished Fellows. Through expeditions around the globe, investigations in the lab, and analysis of vast biological datasets, the Institute’s scientists work to understand the evolution and interconnectedness of organisms and ecosystems, the threats they face around the world, and the most effective strategies for sustaining them into the future. Through innovative partnerships and public engagement initiatives, they also guide critical conservation decisions worldwide, inspire and mentor the next generation of scientists, and foster responsible stewardship of our planet to collectively advance a thriving and regenerative future for all.

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