The Bell with grass and flowers in the foreground

George Weiblen Becomes an AAAS Fellow

Bell Museum Director of Science George Weiblen was distinguished as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) fellow!

Published03/31/2022

We’re excited to share that Bell Museum Director of Science George Weiblen has recently been elected a lifetime AAAS Fellow! AAAS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society and publishes the Science family of journals. They are committed to STEM for the betterment of society and all people. Being named an AAAS Fellow is a huge honor in the scientific community, as it recognizes researchers who have made major contributions to their field of science.

George Weiblen folding plant specimens

“It’s an honor I never imagined that I would receive. I'm humbled to be counted among a number of scholars that I have admired for as long as I have studied science,” Weiblen reflected on the designation.

Among the contributions for which Weiblen has been recognized are his work in the ecology of tropical forests and the botany of marijuana. While these two areas of interest seemingly have nothing to do with one another, Weblein explained that when you work with large time and spatial scales like he does you tend to get pulled in very different directions. Additionally, he’s never restricted himself to one topic—in the end, his roots are in studying the diversity of nature. 

Weiblen’s work in the ecology of tropical forests has resulted in an active research program in Papua New Guinea. Here, he established the first long-term forest plot research study and co-founded the New Guinea Binatang Research Center. His research approach, which respectfully engages local community members, government, and industry partners, was recognized by the University of Minnesota in 2017 with the President’s Community-Engaged Scholar Award.

Additionally, twenty years before marijuana became popular to study, Weiblen was at the center of the discussion. As one of the first plant biologists who was registered to study cannabis, his scientific research has contributed to the understanding of hemp, influencing the establishment of a domestic help industry. He saw this work as an opportunity to engage in a societal concern and use that as a vehicle for communicating the nature of science. You can read more about George’s work in this area here.

George Weiblen looking through a magnifying glass at a plant specimen

Weiblen explained that the commonality between these dramatically different areas of interest is that they are both logistically impractical to study and he enjoys tackling challenging problems. Tropical forests, for example, are incredibly diverse systems that we know little about because of their inaccessibility and the rapid changes due to human development. Marijuana, on the other hand, is difficult to study because until recently it has been highly restricted for research. 

Weiblen’s contributions have been felt not only through the scientific community but also here at the Bell Museum. He was a major player in the effort to digitize our scientific collections in order to make them more accessible through the Minnesota Biodiversity Atlas. Additionally, as a leader in the museum, Weiblen actively provides thoughtful and insightful contributions to our mission, goals, and strategy. 

“George has made a lasting mark on scientific discovery and he continues to do so. I'm thrilled, though not at all surprised, he has been elected as a AAAS Fellow. Using the vernacular of the Bell Museum—this is "kind of a big deal" and I'm so proud of George and grateful for his scientific service,” remarked Denise Young, Director of the Bell Museum.