Contact: Molly McElroy
American Association for the Advancement of Science
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BOSTON — The American Association for the Advancement of Science has named astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, as winner of the 2007 AAAS Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award.
Tyson was cited for his passionate commitment, sustained excellence, and dynamic leadership in engaging the public in the frontiers of science. He will receive the award during a 16 February ceremony at the 2008 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston.
Historically, Tyson said, scientists have not always been quick to recognize the importance of popularizing their work for the general public. The AAAS prize, he said, “represents a deeper level of appreciation” from his colleagues on the value of such outreach efforts.
Tyson’s efforts, whose own outreach efforts are aided by the intrinsic public fascination with cosmic topics such as planets and black holes, said all scientists should consider ways to engage the public by such means as visiting local schools, agreeing to press interviews despite busy schedules, and writing op-ed pieces for local newspapers.
“Tyson is one of the most highly visible and effective spokespersons for science today,” wrote Robert Hazen, professor of earth science at George Mason University, in his letter nominating Tyson for the AAAS award. “Some have called him the next Carl Sagan. With his seemingly weekly appearances on PBS, network TV, and such nontraditional venues as Comedy Central, Neil Tyson reaches a vast audience of nonscientists.”
A Time magazine article announcing Tyson as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2007 also made the Sagan comparison, adding “as long as you envision a Sagan who’s muscular, African American and as cool as his predecessor was geeky.”
Since 1995, Tyson has written the monthly “Universe” column for Natural History magazine, an American Museum of Natural History publication that has a circulation of about 250,000. His September 2003 column, “In the Beginning,” won the American Institute of Physics science writing prize in 2005. A collection of his columns, published in 2007 as “Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries,” reached the New York Times Bestseller List.
As of fall 2006, Tyson has been on-camera host of “NOVA ScienceNOW” on PBS. The magazine-style episodes include reports from the field and cover timely developments and intriguing personalities in science and technology. “I love it to death,” Tyson said of his host position for ScienceNow. “The TV audience is the world’s largest classroom.”
Tyson has also lent a hand to policymakers. In 2004, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on a nine-member Commission on the Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy dubbed the “Moon, Mars, and Beyond” commission. This group made recommendations on ways to carry out a new vision for U.S. space exploration.
As a writer in residence at New York’s Yeshiva University in fall 2005, Tyson led a science and nature writing seminar for the department of English. He also has taught undergraduate astronomy courses, including a course on the universe for non-science majors while he was a visiting lecturer at Princeton University.
In addition to his science communication work, Tyson is a researcher in the department of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. He continues to publish in scholarly journals. His research interests include star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies, and the structure of our Milky Way. Tyson obtains his data from the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as from telescopes in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and in the Andes Mountains of Chile.
Tyson graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in June 1976. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard University in 1980 and a master’s degree in astronomy in 1983 from the University of Texas, where he researched star formation models for dwarf galaxies. He received his Ph.D. degree from Columbia University in 1991. His doctoral research involved chemical evolution, abundances and structure related to the galactic bulge. The International Astronomical Union named an asteroid “13123 Tyson” in his honor, and – on a lighter note – People magazine named him “Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive” in 2000.
Established in 1987, the AAAS Award for Public Understanding of Science & Technology recognizes scientists or engineers who, while working in their fields, have also contributed substantially to public understanding of science and technology. Contributions include books, articles in magazines and newspaper, broadcasting, lecturing, museum presentation and exhibit design.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science (www.sciencemag.org). AAAS was founded in 1848, and serves 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, reaching 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The non-profit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, www.eurekalert.org, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.
For more information on AAAS awards, see http://www.aaas.org/aboutaaas/awards
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