Zellner’s election as AAAS Fellow places her in science stratosphere

There is no mistaking the trajectory of Albion College’s Dr. Nicolle Zellner.

February 22, 2023

By Ward Mullens

Photo Courtesy of Center for Astrophysics: Harvard & Smithsonian

What began as stargazing and watching the aurora borealis as a kid in rural Wisconsin has led her to the stratosphere of her discipline and her latest achievement — being elected as a 2022 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

“To know that my peers and people I don’t even know see value in the work that I do and find importance in it, is very rewarding,” said Zellner, chair of Albion’s physics department.

“I am thrilled to see Dr. Nicolle Zellner being recognized with this top science honor as it highlights her exemplary work and service to the field of astronomy and planetary science,” said Lisa Lewis, interim provost for Albion College. “Dr. Zellner also received the 2021 Carl Sagan Medal for Excellence in Public Communication in Planetary Science. Albion faculty are talented scholars and dedicated teachers who share their love of learning with our students.”

In honoring Zellner, the AAAS cited her “distinguished contributions to lunar impact science, planetary surface science, and astrobiology, for communication of science to the public and for contributions to the advancement of women in science.”

Zellner, who was awarded the prestigious Carl Sagan Medal in 2021, has studied lunar impact glasses and has worked with the Apollo lunar samples to better understand impact processes on the Moon and in the solar system as a whole. Understanding and studying the Apollo samples, which are from the near side of the Moon, will lay the groundwork for what the next crewed Moon landing will discover on the far side of the Moon, according to Zellner.

“It will be really interesting to see what the samples tell us when they are compared to one another,” Zellner said.

Aside from her research, Zellner also has worked as ground support on Space Shuttle Mission STS-67 and served as a program and proposal review officer for NASA.

Zellner said she is simply trying to give back in the same way as the women before her. Women like Ruth Schmitter and Dale Kennedy.

“Ruth was an AAAS Fellow, as well. Dale Kennedy was hired here when there were not a lot of females in science at Albion,” said Zellner, who is serving her third term as chair of Albion’s Physics Department. “I remember my first day at Albion College. One of the professors shook my hand to welcome me and said I was the first woman in the physics department in more than 40 years!”

Zellner, who joined Albion’s faculty in 2005, will take part in the AAAS Fellows Forum in Washington, D.C. this spring.

The AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the Science family of journals. Scientists, engineers and innovators from around the world and across all disciplines are elected by their peers. It is considered one of the most distinguished honors within the scientific community.

The 2022 class of 505 recipients included 23 honorees from Michigan. There were 17 from the University of Michigan, four from Michigan State and one from Wayne State.

Their contributions included: leading the Hubble Space Telescope scientific mission; contributing to understanding the impacts of Amazonian deforestation; driving diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives across the scientific enterprise; and pioneering contributions to the radiology field and working to eliminate health disparities by broadening institutional partnerships, to name but a few.

“AAAS is proud to elevate these standout individuals and recognize the many ways in which they’ve advanced scientific excellence, tackled complex societal challenges and pushed boundaries that will reap benefits for years to come,” said Sudip S. Parikh, Ph.D., AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of the Science family of journals.