AAAS Fellows in front of the U.S. Capitol building

NSF AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellows


Photo of AAAS Fellow
Credit: National Science Foundation

Dr. James Townsend
AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow
Division of Information and Intelligent Systems
Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering

Class of 2023-2024

Dr. James Townsend is a biophysicist who is fascinated by the complexity of life. Their research to date has focused on ctenophores, a group of enigmatic jellyfish-like animals found throughout the world’s oceans.  They have studied topics ranging from the biochemistry of these animals’ unique adhesive prey capture cells to their ecology and biomechanics in the open ocean. Townsend is also a passionate science educator and communicator, and part of the group of marine scientists who successfully proposed the addition of the coral and jellyfish emoji to Unicode. Their policy interests include promoting computational efficiency and ethical access to emerging technologies, as well as encouraging diverse perspectives and backgrounds in the development of artificial intelligence. They are also interested in the potential applications and pitfalls for such systems in digital government, and in the development of new theoretical approaches to storing, parsing, and annotating data.

Townsend earned their PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics from the University of Pennsylvania in 2018 and their BA in Biology at the University of Chicago in 2012. Their postdoctoral activities have included a stint as a community scientist and educator in New York City, research appointments at multiple marine field stations throughout the US, and field expeditions from the Gulf Stream to the Antarctic.