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Noureddine Melikechi Elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Sciences Dean Recognized for Contributions to Cancer Research, Mars Exploration

Sciences Dean Noureddine Melikechi working in the lab Photo by Edwin L. Aguirre
Kennedy College of Sciences Dean Noureddine Melikechi has been elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in recognition of his pioneering research on using laser technology to help diagnose cancers and analyze the geochemistry of Mars.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Kennedy College of Sciences Dean and Physics Prof. Noureddine Melikechi is among the 27 physicists and 416 scientists of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) worldwide who have been elected as new fellows of the organization.

According to AAAS, the fellowship program “honors members whose efforts on behalf of the advancement of science or its applications in service to society have distinguished them among their peers and colleagues.”

Melikechi was recognized for his contributions to understanding laser interactions with materials in detecting cancers and in analyzing Martian soil samples.

“I am deeply honored to have been selected by my peers as one of 2019’s new fellows of this prestigious organization,” says Melikechi. “My fellowship is a reflection of the hard work of many of my educators, mentors, co-investigators, students and collaborators over the years. This honor is their honor as well.”

Founded in 1848 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the AAAS is the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society, with individual members in more than 91 countries around the globe. It is also a leading publisher of cutting-edge research through its Science family of journals.
Melikechi receiving his AAAS fellowship certificate in Seattle
Melikechi received his certificate and rosette pin from AAAS President and Nobel Laureate Steven Chu during the AAAS annual meeting on Feb. 15 in Seattle.

Melikechi and the other fellows received their certificates and rosette pins from Steven Chu, president of the AAAS and a Nobel Laureate in physics, at an induction ceremony held during the AAAS annual meeting on Feb. 15 in Seattle. The other fellows are based at universities and research laboratories across the United States as well as in Canada, the U.K., Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, India, China, Australia, Qatar and Kenya.

A Lifetime of Research 

Melikechi, who is a fellow of the American Physical Society and the Optical Society of America, has more than 150 publications with over 6,000 citations.

Earlier in his career, Melikechi worked on research areas such as multiphoton excitation schemes in atoms and molecules, precise pulsed laser spectroscopy of few-electron systems, non-linear optics and the development of Fourier-transform-limited laser pulses. More recently, he has embarked on two major projects: developing sensitive optical techniques for the early detection of cancers and analyzing Martian soils, dust and rocks using laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy.

Melikechi and his research group have developed and pioneered the use of Tag-LIBS, a laser technique that allows for sensitive, accurate and precise detection and identification of cancer biomarkers in a single drop of blood. Although the initial results are focused in principle on ovarian cancer – a disease that kills more than 14,000 women each year in the U.S. alone – in principle, Tag-LIBS can be applied to detecting other diseases using body fluids such as serum, saliva and urine.
Mars 2020 rover Photo by NASA/JPL/Caltech
Melikechi is a member of the science team for the SuperCam laser remote-sensing instrument aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission, which is scheduled to launch this summer. SuperCam is shown here mounted on the main mast of the 1-ton robotic rover.
Melikechi has also been involved with the ChemCam instrument aboard NASA’s Mars rover named “Curiosity,” which is currently exploring the red planet. He has been a member of the science team that analyzes laser data from ChemCam since the 1-ton robotic rover landed in 2012. ChemCam studies the surface composition of Mars by firing intense pulses of laser on distant rocks, boulders and sediments. The resulting flash of light is picked up by ChemCam, which identifies the different chemical elements present in the target rock, and the data is transmitted to Earth for analysis. Melikechi’s contributions have led to a number of papers published in refereed journals, including Science, Spectrochimica Acta Part B, Applied Spectroscopy, Icarus and others. 

Melikechi is also a science team member for the SuperCam laser remote-sensing instrument aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission, which is scheduled to launch in July from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The state-of-the-art rover, as yet unnamed, is expected to land inside the red planet’s Jezero Crater in February 2021.

Melikechi is an inventor and holder of 15 patents (12 issued and three under review). His inventions include a method to control the output of a laser harmonic generator and using LEDs for curing dental resin materials, as well as a novel way of identifying early signs of jaundice in newborn babies using a cellphone camera.