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Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science Recipients

Johanna Varner is honored with the 2018 Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science. | AAAS

The AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science, established in 2010, recognizes early-career scientists and engineers who demonstrate excellence in their contribution to public engagement with science activities. A monetary prize of $5,000, a commemorative plaque, complimentary registration to the AAAS Annual Meeting, and reimbursement for reasonable hotel and travel expenses to attend the AAAS Annual Meeting to receive the prize are given to the recipient.

Nominations are being accepted from February 15 through August 1, 2018. Please visit the award page for more information about the nomination process. Visit Trellis, AAAS' communication and collaboration platform, for some additional guidance and background information on applying.

AAAS Awards

Each year, AAAS recognizes significant contributions to science and the public’s understanding of science. Learn more about these awards and nominate a scientist, engineer, author, journalist or public servant for their outstanding work.

Due to a change in naming convention, there is not a 2017 Early Career Award.

2018 Recipient

2018 AAAS Early Career Award recipient Johanna Varner accepts her award during the 2018 AAAS Annual Meeting. | Professional Images Photography

Johanna Varner is an assistant professor of biology at Colorado Mesa University, where she teaches courses for both biology majors and non-majors and studies the response of small rabbit-relatives, called pikas, to environmental change. Varner’s primary public engagement is through citizen science engagement programs, which she views as an opportunity help volunteers appreciate the natural world, consider local consequences of climate change and participate in all aspects of science. She is a co-founder of Cascades Pika Watch in Oregon, a collaborative citizen science program to monitor the status and distribution of pika populations in the Pacific Northwest.

Varner has collaborated with two Pika Watch volunteers to initiate a new research project, drawing them into the process of conducting science from start to finish. She worked with these participants in developing research questions, designing field studies, presenting the results as co-authors on a poster presentation at a national conference and writing grants supporting the project. Varner also developed a long-term student-scientist program in Utah called the Uintas Pika Watch to engage middle school students in monitoring pikas in the nearby mountains. She has also given interactive presentations in which she encourages the audience to interpret data themselves in various settings including campgrounds, museums, science centers and jails. Varner finds value in public engagement, saying it has enriched her science by offering fresh perspectives, leveraging audiences’ skills and stimulating new inquires.

Read Varner's public engagement case study, “Engaging K-12 Students in Authentic Place-Based Research,” on our Case Studies page and read more about Varner in AAAS News.

Past Recipients

Suzi Gage is honored for her generous public engagement activities that center on evidence-based approaches with the potential to build long-term critical thinking skills in her audiences.Gage writes a science blog for the Guardian newspaper’s website, and frequently gives public lectures and talks. In 2016 she launched podcast “Say Why to Drugs” with rapper and actor Scroobius Pip, discussing the scientific evidence around the effects of recreational drugs, busting myths that exist around them, and discussing the harms but also potential benefits of the substances. Suzi completed her PhD at the University of Bristol in 2014, which used a large birth cohort to look at associations between cannabis and cigarette use, and psychosis and depression.

Mark Rosin is honored for his broad range of creative and sustainable public engagement strategies that target audiences who may not be actively seeking science information. As director and co-founder of Guerilla Science, Rosin has reached over 15,000 people directly through events such as the Intergalactic Travel Bureau, multi-day events at math and art festivals, and a section of the first National Math Festival. His Fire Organ, which builds on the Rubens’ tube to visualize connections between math and music, has toured the United States, including visits to Maker Faire and Burning Man Festival. In addition to direct implementation, Rosin has trained over 100 scientists to engage public audiences.

Shane Bergin is honored for his commitment and demonstrated impact to engaging the public in science through innovative methods that bring science into the daily lives of his local community. In particular, Bergin was recognized for spearheading a public-engagement campaign on Dublin's rapid-transit system (the DART) — an effort to generate interest in science and science careers. His "DARTofPhysics" project sought to change the perception of physics in Ireland by prompting commuters to ponder intriguing questions about physical phenomena. Though still at an early stage of his career, Bergin has developed many other educational and communication-focused activities, including the Trinity College Pitch Drop.

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang is honored for her sustained commitment and novel approach to integrating public engagement with science into her extensive research and scholarly activities and for using public interactions to inform her research. She engages K-12 students in her neuroscience research through lab visits and internships for students from low-performing schools, and compliments her research by meeting with each study participant to discuss their brain scans, as well as their college plans and potential interest in a science career.

Baratunde Cola is honored for his commitment to an exceptional research career while sharing his passion for science and engineering by engaging in creative and collaborative outreach with teachers and students in underrepresented communities. He works with K-12 teachers to create broadly dispersed education materials in the fields of nanotechnology and energy conservation, from hands-on engineering competitions to nanotechnology-inspired art displays.

Daniel 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.

Lynford L. Goddard is honored as the first recipient of the AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science for exemplifying an early career scientist eager to share his excitement about science and demonstrating excellence in reaching high school students with activities in electrical engineering, while simultaneously pursuing a competitive research career.

Public Engagement Discussions Led by Past Awardees

Read discussions led by past awardees in the Public Engagement with Science Group on Trellis, AAAS' online communication and collaboration platform. If you aren’t a member of the Trellis group, request to join to view and comment on these discussions.

  • Shane Bergin (2014 recipient) asks group members for advice on evaluating public engagement.
  • Greta Binford (advisor for the award) discusses incentives for engaging.
  • Mark Rosin (2015 recipient) responds to questions about “guerilla science” and goals for public engagement.
  • Suzi Gage and the 2016 finalists share how early career scientists deal with the challenges of prioritizing engagement.