Public Release: 

Philip and Phylis Morrison, and science service picked for NSB Public Service Awards

National Science Foundation

The National Science Board (NSB) has named Philip and Phylis Morrison -- he, a renowned physicist and science communicator, and she, an educator, author and her husband's long-time collaborator -- for the NSB's third annual public service award. The NSB is honoring both Morrisons with individual awards because of their unique teaming efforts over many years in communicating science and enhancing the public's understanding of it, and for educating, encouraging and influencing a new generation of scientists.

The NSB also named Science Service, a nonprofit organization founded in 1921 to advance public understanding and appreciation of science, to receive the public service award for organizations. Science Service administers several prestigious education programs for middle school and high school students, and also publishes the highly regarded weekly news magazine Science News.

The awards will be presented at a ceremony on the evening of May 3.

Philip Morrison, institute professor emeritus at M.I.T., is widely known for his work in high-energy astrophysics among several other fields. During World War Two, he was a group leader for the Manhattan Project and took part in the first test of the atomic bomb in the Nevada desert.

In the 1950s, Morrison turned his attention to studies of gamma ray astronomy, and cosmology. He became one of the first scientists to call for a coordinated search for interstellar communications through use of radio waves.

By the 1960s, Morrison shifted his focus into a broad range of science communications. He began reviewing books for Scientific American in 1965. And with his wife Phylis, an art and science teacher he met on an education project at M.I.T., the two went on to co-author many books, work closely on education reform initiatives, narrate and script films, and appear widely on science programs for the BBC, Canadian Broadcasting and American television's NOVA series on PBS. The Morrisons became widely recognized for their presentation of a six-part PBS series, "The Ring of Truth," aired in 1987. They also co-authored and collaborated on a book and its film adaptation, "The Powers of Ten," which present compelling visual images of the world around us, from the most minute objects to the unimaginably vast.

"Their ability is to see things whole, not from a single perspective. They focus on teaching freshmen courses that empower students to learn through experimentation. Their reviews of childrens' science books and their giveaways of these books to children each year are all indicative of how special they are," Michael Ambrosino, chair of the advisory committee to the NSB awards, said. The Morrisons, he added, maintain a vast interest in international education, especially in India and Africa.

Science Service, based in Washington, D.C., has made its mark through a wide variety of programs that encourage students, parents, teachers and communities to learn about and explore the worlds of science and discovery. The organization has reached millions through its many activities. The Intel Science Talent Search, the nation's oldest science competition, often referred to as the junior Nobel, is for high school seniors completing an original individual research project. The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair brings together 1,200 students from every state and over 40 nations to compete for scholarships, tuition grants, internships and the grand prize of a trip to Sweden to attend the Nobel Prize ceremonies. In 1999, Science Service launched the Discovery Young Scientist Challenge for students in grades 5-8 competing in science fairs throughout the country, with finalists making a trip to Washington to compete in science challenges for the top scholarship prize worth $10,000, and international field trips with notable scientists.

The weekly Science News has long been appreciated by science journalists as a key source of information and valuable news journal geared to scientists and non-scientists alike.

"Science News and its offspring, Science On-Line are compelling, colorful and completely accurate in describing advances in scientific discovery," David Perlman, a science editor and member of the advisory committee for the awards, said. He added that the Service's Science Talent Search and International Science and Engineering Fair "stimulate wonderful inquiry-based scientific experiments and projects among high school students in every community in America." He described the Discovery Young Scientist Challenge as having "an auspicious beginning" for being in just its second year.

Science Service also provides a wide range of training resources and enrichment programs for pre-college students in science, technology and engineering, and for future teachers. It also has initiated the first-ever integrated effort between government, corporate and nonprofit partners, called "Summit on Science," to raise national awareness on the importance of science literacy.

The NSB's public service award to Science Service cited the organization's efforts to raise the level of understanding of science and technology, and its work to foster awareness among broad segments of the population.

Attachment: Fact sheet on NSB Public Service Award


National Science Board
Public Service Award

Background. The National Science Board established its annual Public Service Award in November, 1996 to be presented each year to one or more individuals and one institution to recognize their contributions to increased understanding of science or engineering on a wide scale.

Criteria. Unlike other NSB recognition, the Public Service Award does not focus on accomplishments in science and engineering, primarily. Candidates for the award must demonstrate contributions to public service beyond their scientific accomplishments, including:

  • an increased understanding of the processes of science and engineering through scientific discovery, innovation and its communication to the public;
  • encouraging others to help raise public understanding of science and technology;
  • promoting the engagement of scientists and engineers in public outreach and scientific literacy;
  • contributing to the development and support of broad science and engineering policy;
  • influencing and encouraging the next generation of scientists and engineers;
  • achieving broad recognition outside their area of specialization;
  • and fostering awareness of science and technology among broad segments of the population.

Candidates remain eligible to receive the Public Service Award for three years, including the year nominated. Based on the judgment of a six-member advisory committee appointed by the NSB chairman, recommendations of the advisory group are submitted to the full Board for final selection.


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