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Two UMD Scientists Named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Ellen D. Williams, Distinguished University Professor of Physics and John R. Townshend, Research Professor/Emeritus Professor of Geographical Sciences named 2019 AAAS Fellows.


Lee Tune , 301-405-4679


Two University of Maryland, College Park faculty members have been named 2019 fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Ellen D. Williams, a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Physics and the Institute for Physical Science and Technology, and John R. Townshend, a Research Professor/Emeritus Professor, a past dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences and a past chair of the Department of Geographical Sciences, are among 443 members of the association being recognized this year for their “efforts toward advancing scientific applications that are deemed scientifically or socially distinguished.” New Fellows will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue (representing science and engineering, respectively) rosette pin on February 14th at the AAAS Fellows Forum during the 2020 AAAS Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington.

According to AAAS, Professor Williams was recognized for scientific contributions to nanotechnology as well as leadership on technical issues in national security and policy, and Professor Townshend was recognized for fundamental contributions to earth resources remote sensing, especially the global study of deforestation and land cover change, and significant administrative leadership in academe.

Ellen WilliamsWilliams, who works at the interface of energy technology and policy, is known for her research in surface properties and nanotechnology and for her engagement with technical issues in national security, both as chief scientist at British Petroleum (BP), and in government service as director of the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

“I am honored to receive this award and delighted that it affirms the important role of scientists in providing clear technical assessments to support policy decisions,” Williams said.

Williams came to UMD in 1981 for a postdoctoral fellowship and rose to the rank of professor by 1991. At Maryland, she established an internationally recognized research program in experimental surface science, exploring fundamental issues in statistical mechanics and nanotechnology. She also pioneered the use of very powerful electron scanning, tunneling microscopes to study the surface of materials like silicon at the atomic level. In 1996, Williams founded the University of Maryland Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, serving as its director until 2009.

Williams served as the chief scientist for British Petroleum (BP) from 2010 to 2014, before her confirmation by the U.S. Senate as the director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) on Dec. 8, 2014. Launched with bipartisan support in 2009, ARPA-E’s mission is to advance high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early in development for private-sector investment. Williams returned to UMD in January 2017. Since then, she has been working to bridge policy and technology perspectives for clean energy innovation. Recently, she completed a report to the State of Maryland on “The Present Status and Future Potential of Maryland’s Clean Energy Innovation System.”

John TownshendTownshend is an internationally renowned scholar and author whose research focuses on the rates and causes of vegetation cover change, especially deforestation, through the use of remotely sensed data from satellites; his work is funded primarily through NASA grants. He has headed UMD’s Global Land Cover Facility, which houses the largest open access non-governmental online collection of Landsat data in the world.

From 1989 to 1995, and again from 2001 to 2009, Professor Townshend served as Chair of the Department of Geographical Sciences. From 2009 to 2014, Professor Townshend served as Dean of the College and Behavioral and Social Sciences.

“I am honored to have been awarded a fellowship by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. My endeavors have been greatly aided by colleagues in the Department of Geographical Sciences in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the University of Maryland. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the contributions of the many postdocs and graduate students with whom I have worked. Finally, my work—and in particular my international peregrinations—would not have been possible without the tremendous support of my wife, Jan.” Professor Townshend said.

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