Longtime member and renowned physicist Dr. Mani L. Bhaumik will endow the AAAS Award for Public Engagement with Science with a contribution of $500,000. Established in 1987, the Award has recognized working scientists and engineers who make outstanding contributions to the “popularization of science,” honoring well-known science communicators like Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, May Berenbaum and S. James Gates, Jr.—among others—for their efforts to engage the public.
Through Bhaumik’s endowment, AAAS will galvanize key attributes that the Award represents to the science community and to society in perpetuity, including recognizing public engagement and science communication as laudable pursuits and elevating the importance of such activities as central to the science enterprise.
When fully realized, funding from the endowment will allow AAAS to increase both the nomination outreach to maximize international participation, and publicity for the award winner and their accomplishments. It will also allow the monetary prize of the award to double from $5,000 to $10,000 which will undoubtedly help to grow enthusiasm and commitment for the art of science communication.
Dr. Bhaumik rose from poverty to become an eminent scientist who played a key role in developing the laser technology that paved the way for Lasik eye surgery. Born in a remote village in West Bengal, India, he grew up in a thatched-roof mud hut he shared with his parents and six siblings.
However, Bhaumik's dreams of a brighter future gave him the determination to obtain a good education, and his prodigious curiosity led him to become a scientist. Studying under renowned physicist Satyendra Bose, he earned a master's degree at the University of Calcutta. In 1958, Bhaumik became the first student to earn a doctorate, also in physics, from the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur.
Bhaumik came to UCLA in 1959 "with $3 in my pocket," he said, on a Sloan Foundation postdoctoral fellowship. The people of his village raised the money for his airfare. In addition to his support of AAAS, Bhaumik also made the largest endowment contribution in history to the UCLA physical sciences division, establishing the Mani L. Bhaumik Institute of Theoretical Physics in 2016.
“Today, the role of scientists to communicate the importance and relevance of their work has never been more important. Endowing this award is as timely as ever, and we are truly grateful for Dr. Bhaumik’s support,” said AAAS CEO Rush Holt.
The award will officially be renamed the AAAS Mani L. Bhaumik Award for Public Engagement with Science with its next presentation in 2019.