Brookhaven Lab's Alistair Rogers Named 2022 AAAS Fellow
Recognition honors contributions to understanding plants' responses to global climate change
January 31, 2023
Plant physiologist Alistair Rogers was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
UPTON, NY—Alistair Rogers, a plant physiologist who leads the Terrestrial Ecosystem Science & Technology (TEST) Group in the Environmental and Climate Sciences Department at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, has been named a 2022 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Each year, AAAS bestows this honor on select members whose “efforts on behalf of the advancement of science, or its applications, are scientifically or socially distinguished.” New Fellows will be honored during an event this spring.
Rogers is being honored “for distinguished contributions to advancing the mechanistic understanding of plant responses to anthropogenic environmental change and relating this knowledge to improving mathematical models of ecosystem function.”
As Rogers noted, “Plant physiology is central to addressing many of the challenges facing society today—from increasing the yield and sustainability of our crops and biofuels, to understanding, predicting, and slowing down climate change. It’s gratifying to see my work in plant physiology recognized by the AAAS, and I’m honored to be elected as a Fellow of the society.”
“Plant physiology is central to addressing many of the challenges facing society today—from increasing the yield and sustainability of our crops and biofuels, to understanding, predicting, and slowing down climate change.”
— Alistair Rogers
Rogers’ research is focused on understanding the physiological processes that impact plant responses to global change and improving how that knowledge is represented in models of Earth’s terrestrial biosphere—the collective term for all the world’s land vegetation, soil, and its interactions with the atmosphere. He is one of the world’s authorities on plant responses to rising atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and in how Earth System Models represent photosynthesis, the process plants use to convert CO2 into sugars and other carbon-based compounds. His work also considers processes downstream of carbon assimilation that can have important feedbacks on photosynthesis and plant growth, including whole plant carbon balance and nitrogen metabolism.
Rogers’ research has contributed to understanding these topics from the molecular to the global scale through studies covering many natural and managed ecosystems—including crops and forests. Most recently, his work has involved research in the Arctic tundra of northern Alaska and the tropical forests of Panama and Brazil.
“The opportunity to work in these incredible ecosystems and be part of large, successful multi-institutional teams has been a real privilege,” Rogers said. “Working in these environments is challenging, and I’m proud to work alongside my dedicated colleagues from Brookhaven Lab and our partner institutes.”
Throughout his career, Rogers has exhibited leadership, organizing workshops and other efforts to bring together communities of scientists working primarily as modelers with experimentalists conducting field studies. His paper, “A Roadmap for Improving the Representation of Photosynthesis in Earth System Models,” published in New Phytologist in 2017, established a framework for these efforts and has spurred continuing collaboration. He is part of the leadership team on DOE’s Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments NGEE-Artic and NGEE-Tropics.
“The vision of DOE’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research was for the NGEE projects to have a tight connection to climate models. This strong model-experiment focus has afforded me the opportunity to work on issues of central importance to climate models and towards the goal of improving our ability to predict the response of these critical biomes to global change,” Rogers said.
Braving the bugs, Alistair Rogers (right) and his colleague Stefanie Lasota collect leaf samples in Alaska for analysis. (Photo: Roy Kaltschmidt)
Rogers was the first to collect key photosynthetic data on Arctic species, enabling improved modeling of productivity in that critical ecosystem. His interest in understanding plant responses to global change in the Arctic continues with experiments using novel passively warmed field enclosures to study the impact of elevated temperature on photosynthesis and plant respiration.
Rogers’ early research was centered on the response of plants to elevated carbon dioxide concentration using unique DOE-led Free Air CO2 Enrichment (FACE) experiments. The FACE approach was developed by scientists at Brookhaven Lab in the 1980s and 90s as a ring of pipes that could be used to expose plants to elevated levels of carbon dioxide in their natural environment.
“The DOE FACE program, and the opportunity to work at the FACE sites that Brookhaven Lab was operating, or had helped to design and build, was the reason I came to Brookhaven for a post-doctoral fellowship,” Rogers said. “It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
At FACE sites in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Illinois, Rogers investigated how plant’s capacity for photosynthesis changed when growing while exposed to elevated CO2. He also studied environmental, physiological, and molecular regulation of this acclimation. His work laid the foundation for understanding how legumes (soybean and peanut plants, for example) acclimate to elevated CO2, including how seasonal changes in the levels of nitrogen available to these plants interact with and influence photosynthesis.
In addition to his scientific pursuits, Rogers has served as a mentor to many undergraduate students participating in DOE’s Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) program at Brookhaven Lab. He worked side-by-side and in the field with students, providing them with unique and rewarding experiences while sharing his expertise, patience, and humor. DOE has recognized him as an Outstanding Mentor on three occasions.
Alistair Rogers earned his B.S. in biochemistry and botany in 1994 from the University of Wales, Bangor, United Kingdom, and his Ph.D. in biology in 1998 from the University of Essex, UK. He joined Brookhaven Lab as a postdoctoral research associate in 1998 and rose through the ranks ultimately earning the Distinction of Tenure in 2022. From 2003-2011, he also held adjunct appointments in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, and since 2012 has been a member of the graduate program faculty in the Department of Ecology & Evolution at Stony Brook University. In addition, he serves as a handling editor at the Journal of Experimental Botany and is a trained facilitator for ADVANCE Geo—a partnership that aims to address the problem of harassment and exclusion in the Earth, space, and environmental sciences.
AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the Science family of journals. The tradition of naming Fellows stretches back to 1874. AAAS Fellows are a distinguished cadre of scientists, engineers, and innovators who have been recognized for their achievements across disciplines ranging from research, teaching, and technology, to administration in academia, industry, and government, to excellence in communicating and interpreting science to the public. Rogers is one of 506 scientists, engineers, and innovators spanning 24 scientific disciplines who are being recognized as members of the 2022 class of AAAS Fellows.
Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.
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