AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science  2011 Award Recipient
Daniel Colón-Ramos was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He completed his Bachelor’s degree at Harvard University and his Ph.D. at Duke University, where he combined bioinformatics, molecular biology, biochemistry, and cell biological approaches to answer questions critical for understanding the molecular mechanism of apoptosis, a physiological process tightly linked to cancer. Now Assistant Professor of Cell Biology in the Program in Cellular Neuroscience, Neurodegeneration and Repair at the Yale University School of Medicine, Colón-Ramos’ lab explores the developmental events that direct neural connectivity, especially in the brain.
Despite a busy and successful research career, Colón-Ramos has remained tireless in his commitment to increasing public engagement with science, particularly among underrepresented minority populations; in his efforts to raise awareness about the importance of scientific research; and in his contributions to the education and training of young scientists.
In 2006, while a postdoc at Stanford, Colón-Ramos co-founded Ciencia Puerto Rico. The non-profit provides a “virtual collaborative space”—in the form of its website, CienciaPR.org—to bring together geographically dispersed members of the Puerto Rican scientific community (including its more than 5,400 members) and build on the collective knowledge of this community to engage the public with science, promote scientific education, and foster the development of science endeavors there. The effort has since expanded to include numerous informal science education and outreach activities, such as scientist-written articles for lay audiences in Spanish-language media; a book about science and Puerto Rico for young audiences and the general public; and the first science podcasting channel in Puerto Rico. His own public engagement efforts include a collection of articles employing fantastic concepts from the movieAvatar to illustrate Puerto Rico’s real-life wonders and the development of a series of popular science podcasts.
Colón-Ramos is passionate about contributing to the development of future scientists and has spoken broadly about his experience on the academic path to a research career, the importance of mentoring and role models in science education, and the need for an open dialogue between scientists and the general public. He is editor of a collection of short stories and essays about science written by Puerto Rican scientists and is currently piloting a project engaging K-12 students in learning and conveying, through podcasts of their own, the concepts taught in the book.
AAAS’s Newly Endowed Award
As issues at the interface of science and society—from disease research to global climate change, evolution, human embryonic stem cell research, neuroscience, and others—take on increasing importance, the new Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science seeks to encourage efforts to promote interactive dialogue between scientists and non-scientific, public audiences. By highlighting and celebrating successful examples of public engagement, AAAS and our partners aim to communicate the importance of such efforts and create models for other scientists and engineers.
AAAS is grateful to Bob and Margee Hazen for their vision in initiating this award and for their generous gifts to establish the endowment that will fund it. We also wish to acknowledge Bruce and Betty Alberts, Alan and Agnes Leshner, David Evans Shaw, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Noyce Foundation for their leadership support, as well as the many others who have made contributions to make this award a reality.