News Archive

State of the Society

January 23, 2019

By Joel R. Primack

Joel_R_Primack240x300Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society is one of the oldest and most diverse scientific organizations in the world. It was founded in 1886 to honor excellence in scientific investigation and encourage a sense of companionship and cooperation among researchers in all fields of science and engineering. This message summarizes Sigma Xi’s recent accomplishments and new opportunities.

  • We are growing our community by increasing the nominations to membership for deserving researchers, developing programs that active members will find valuable as their careers progress, and engaging citizen scientists and K–12 students as affiliates and explorers.

  • In connection with the Society’s November 2017 Symposium on Atmospheric Chemistry, Climate, and Health in Raleigh, North Carolina, Sigma Xi’s Board of Directors issued a strong statement on climate change.

  • Sigma Xi’s Grants-in-Aid of Research (GIAR) program remains one of the society’s highest priorities. In 2018 the GIAR program also awarded its first grant in the new category of climate science.

  • Sigma Xi’s 2018 Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference was held in October in the heart of Silicon Valley, on the topic Big Data and the Future of Research. The meeting was very well attended with many excellent speakers, including the keynote plenary talk by Jeff Dean, who is in charge of artificial intelligence at Google. Additional plenary speakers included Sigma Xi’s 2018 award winners and Steve Ritz of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who described how big data is affecting astrophysics. Breakout sessions included symposia on big data in biology and medicine; physics and astronomy; and climate, energy, and the environment as well as sessions about the responsible conduct of research, science communication, and professional development. Approximately 140 high school, undergraduate, and graduate students attended the meeting and presented their research during a poster session, and top presenters were selected for awards.

  • Sigma Xi’s magazine American Scientist, founded in 1913, remains one of the best science magazines in the world. It won two Gold EXCEL Awards in 2018 in the journals category, one for General Excellence and the other for Feature Article. The excellent, recently redesigned American Scientist website won a Silver EXCEL Award. The September–October 2018 American Scientist was a special issue on the topic of Big Data in Astronomy.

  • Sigma Xi succeeded in raising funds to send one-year subscriptions to American Scientist  to 650 high schools in states that have had laws or proposals that would negatively influence how science is taught.

Sigma Xi also has many new opportunities:

  • Sigma Xi CEO Jamie Vernon and the Board of Directors have been developing a strategic plan for the society. A preliminary version was made available for comments at the 2018 Annual Meeting. We expect to finalize the Strategic Plan in 2019, with improved organization and many new initiatives.

  • Fundraising efforts are strengthening, to allow Sigma Xi to undertake new programs—for example, expanding the Distinguished Lectureships program with a greater diversity of speakers including junior scientists, training programs for speakers, and a speakers bureau to expand the venues for Sigma Xi speakers including social media.

  • In 2022, the GIAR program will celebrate its 100th year, having supported more than 30,000 students at a crucial time in their careers. To celebrate GIAR's centenary, and for Sigma Xi to truly represent an investment in the future of science and engineering, we wish to grow the GIAR endowment to expand the program and offer larger grants. 

  • The 2019 Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference will be held November 14–17 at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison, Wisconsin. The theme will be Our Changing Global Environment.

  • Sigma Xi must strengthen its advocacy of support for science and technology research, both for increased funding and for more effective use of reliable information in public policy decisions at all levels of government.

Joel R. Primack is president of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society.