Fifty-six University of California researchers, three of whom are professors at UCSB, recently celebrated their election as 2006 fellows in the prestigious American Association Advancement of Science.

The AAAS – an organization devoted to improving understanding of science and technology worldwide – elected UCSB’s David D. Awschalom, Charles E. Samuel and Alec N. Wodtke as fellows this year. The professors were selected from hundreds of nominations for the honor.

The professors were granted the fellowships following an assessment of each nominees’ research work, submitted to the AAAS’ electing body for evaluation after being nominated by peers in their fields. The group, which is the world’s largest association, is composed of scientists and researchers hailing from a broad range of scientific fields, including agriculture, biology, medical and social sciences, psychology and education.

Awschalom, who has been a professor of physics at UCSB for 16 years, researches the quantum physics of “spintronics” – a composite word derived from spin-based electronics, a major subfield in his academic field.

After rummaging through what he thought was junk mail, Awschalom said he was surprised to open a letter revealing his election into the AAAS. He said his selection is an indication of the caliber of the students who attend UCSB.

“It is an incredible reflection on the quality of the students. The grad students at UCSB are incredible. Awschalom said. “[They] definitely know more than me.”

Awschalom, who works with his grad students to manipulate the spin of particles, said the field of spintronics has many practical applications. For instance, Awschalom said it could eventually lead to an exponential increase in storage capacity and density for electronic devices.

“You could put everything in the whole world in your iPod,” Awschalom said.

Awschalom is interested in teaching people how quantum physics plays a role in the real world of electronics that everybody uses.

“We all like our cell phones and flat screen TVs, the fabrication is all the same,” Awschalom said.
“[Electronics are] a foreign language [which is why] it’s so important to teach the people about science,” Awschalom said.

Felix Mendoza, a fifth-year grad student who studies under Professor Awschalom, says the honor is well-deserved.

“He is one of the top people in the field,” Mendoza said. “He is very good to work with and to talk to.”

Also inducted into the AAAS this year was Wodtke, who has been a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSB since 1988. His research involves taking snapshots of rapidly vibrating molecules on surfaces going through a chemical reaction.

Wodtke admits he does not yet know exactly where the research will go, but said it could become a useful contribution to alternative energy sources. He said he is honored to be part of the prestigious group and says his election into the AAAS will only positively influence his research.

“There are a lot of people in the AAAS that I have enormous respect [for],” Wodtkesaid.

Professor Wodtke said he likes the AAAS because it assists in influencing science in the government and improves the budget for science research.

“I hope it makes avenues to do something useful in the future,” Wodtke said.

Samuel, a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology was also inducted into the AAAS this year. According to his biography on the department’s website, Samuel works with mouse and human cDNA and genomic clones as part of his research includes biochemical and molecular genetic studies of enzymes.

Samuel did not return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment.