The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has named May R. Berenbaum, professor and head of the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as winner of the 2009 AAAS Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award.
Berenbaum was honored for “her extraordinary ability to integrate her original research on the world of insects with her inspirational efforts to communicate the wonders and complexity of nature.” She will receive the award during a 20 February ceremony at the 2010 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Diego.
Specifically, the AAAS award committee said: “One of the most respected entomologists in the world, Dr. Berenbaum is distinguished by a career that uniquely combines high-impact scientific discovery and effective public engagement. She transformed chemical ecology, a field that seeks to understand nature in chemical terms, by pioneering its integration with genetics.”
In addition to research that has transformed the field of chemical ecology and has had a major impact on agriculture and the environment, Berenbaum was described in a 1997 New York Times article as “the most relentless creative insect advocate in the world.” She is the legendary creator of the “Insect Fear Film Festival,” which melds entomology and film into a new, successful form of public engagement with science. Now more than 25 years old, the annual event draws thousands of viewers and international media coverage.
Throughout her career, Berenbaum has emerged as an authoritative public source of information on insect problems. The prize selection committee commended her extensive service to the National Research Council (NRC), where she is a National Associate, an honor reserved for National Academy of Sciences members who make extraordinary contributions to the NRC. Her work as a National Associate has included chairing the committee on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which issued its report on the status of pollinators in October 2006—months before the massive disappearances of honey bees across the country. She emerged as the CCD spokesperson for the scientific community, and she has written op-ed articles and testified before Congress on the issue.
AAAS Chief Executive Officer Alan I. Leshner, executive publisher of the journal Science said: “In recognition of her paradigm-changing scientific discoveries as well as her passionate dedication to public understanding of science, Dr. Berenbaum is highly deserving of the 2009 AAAS Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award.”
A prominent entomologist interested in the chemical interactions between herbivorous insects and their host-plants, Berenbaum has studied the implications of these interactions on the organization of natural communities and the evolution of species.
She graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. degree and honors in biology from Yale University in 1975. She attended graduate school at Cornell University and received a Ph.D. degree in ecology and evolutionary biology in 1980.
Since that time, she has been a member of the faculty of the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has served as head of the department since 1992. In addition to her research, she is devoted to teaching and to fostering scientific literacy. She is the recipient of the 1996 Entomological Society of America North Central Branch Distinguished Teaching Award. She has authored numerous magazine articles as well as three books about insects for the general public.
Established in 1987, the AAAS Award for Public Understanding of Science & Technology recognizes scientists or engineers who, while working in their fields, have also contributed substantially to public understanding of science and technology. Contributions include books, articles in magazines and newspaper, broadcasting, lecturing, museum presentation and exhibit design.
The AAAS Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award will be presented at the 176th AAAS Annual Meeting in San Diego, California, which convened 18 February and runs through 22 February. The awards ceremony and reception will be held at the San Diego Convention Center on Saturday 20 February at 5:00 p.m.
Read more about AAAS awards.