Skip to main content

2002 Award for Public Engagement with Science Recipient

2002 Award Recipients

AAAS Award for Public Understanding of Science & Technology

Bassam Shakhashiri

This year’s recipient of the AAAS Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology is Dr. Bassam Shakhashiri. He is honored for his tireless commitment to educating the public, especially children, about the nature and wonder of science.

“Scientist by training, teacher and public servant by trade, advocate by conviction, optimist by nature”—how Dr. Bassam Shakhashiri describes himself.

In 1995, the Encyclopedia Britannica’s Yearbook of Science and the Future called Shakhashiri the “reigning dean of lecture demonstrations.” Trained as a chemist, Shakhashiri received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Boston University in 1960 following a few years at the American University in Beirut. By 1968, he had received both his master’s and doctoral degrees in chemistry from the University of Maryland. Shakhashiri’s scholarship is well-documented in his classic four-volume series, Chemical Demonstrations.This collection of dozens of lecture demonstrations, provided in complete scientific detail and with appropriate safety and usage information, is widely regarded as the definitive source for such information.

As a teacher and public servant, Shakhashiri has held positions at Bowdoin College, the University of Maryland, the University of Illinois-Urbana, and the University of Wisconsin. He also served as the assistant director of the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Science and Engineering Education from 1984 to 1990 where he directed the design and administration of a wide variety of programs to improve all levels of education in mathematics, engineering, and the sciences. Since his return to the University of Wisconsin in 1990, Shakhashiri has taught introductory chemistry courses to more than 600 students annually.

As an advocate of science education, Shakhashiri founded the Institute for Chemical Education in order to bring effective, modern instructional materials and methods to the broader teaching community. He created the Science is Fun! program to bring science to K-12 students and teachers and has initiated the Conversations in Science Series, which connects research scientists at the University of Wisconsin to secondary education classrooms. Few secondary professional development opportunities have been as successful.

What Shakhashiri may be most famous for is his annual program, “Once Upon a Christmas Cheery, in the Lab of Shakhashiri,” seen across the country on television and in venues like the Smithsonian, the National Academy of Sciences, and the halls of Congress.These demonstration lectures, modern versions of the celebrated presentations made by British scientist Michael Faraday, have formed the basis for an interactive chemistry exhibit seen by many thousands of visitors at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Professor Shakhashiri has given about 1,000 invited lectures and presentations throughout the world; he has been featured in magazines and newspapers, national and local; and he has appeared on television and radio, always avowing that science is indeed fun!