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IU professor Shahzeen Attari named top 10 scientist to watch



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Shahzeen Attari speaks at The Interval for the Long Now Foundation on June 26. Shahzeen was featured on a list of 10 scientists under 40 to watch published by Science News last month. Photo Courtesy of Gary Wilson Buy Photos

An IU professor was featured on a list of 10 scientists under 40 to watch published by Science News last month.

Shahzeen Attari, 37, is an associate professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs whose research is focused on how people think about conservation and energy use.

One of Attari’s biggest goals is to understand how we can combine facts and human feelings to motivate personal and governmental action on climate change, she said.

“The planet is on course for drastic climate change impacts in the decades to come,” Attari said. “In order to avoid the worst of these outcomes and protect the environment from further degradation, individual and institutional behaviors need to change.”

Additionally, Attari said she believes scientists will be more effective in educating about climate change if they work to reduce their own carbon footprint.

“A climate communicator needs to consider their carbon footprint while communicating about climate change,” Attari said.

Cori Vanchieri, a features editor for Science News, said Attari was recognized because of her ability to take the results of her research and apply them to public policy.

In her study, “Perceptions of Water Systems,” published in the academic journal “Judgement and Decision Making,” Attari asked 457 IU students to draw a diagram of the cycle of waterflow from the environment into the faucet of an average home.

According to the study, only 7.2 percent of students correctly identified all parts of the water system. She found the majority of students did not know the full process and energy resources necessary to provide clean tap water, including drinking water and sewage treatment plants. 

These findings, according to the study, reveal a critical gap in public environmental education efforts. 

“She takes a look at what do people know, how does that affect their decision making and what she can learn to help people make better decisions about water use or supporting certain policies,” Vanchieri said. 

Attari said she is honored to have been selected for the Science News 10, but it could not have been done without the help of fellow colleagues and students in her lab. 

“These students are a driven, dedicated group of thinkers and doers that give hope and reason for our research,” she said.

The scientists featured in the Science News 10 were nominated by Nobel Prize winners and recent members of the National Academy of Sciences, with the final decision coming down to the staff of the magazine.

“We look at the papers that the young researcher has published and try to get a sense of how they’re moving the field forward,” said Vanchieri. “What’s unique about them, what’s special about them, and we come up with our list.”

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