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In Memoriam 2023: AAAS Remembers Longtime Contributors to Scientific Community

In 2023, AAAS lost several longtime members of its community, including science communicator JoAnn Valenti and physicist and science policy expert Lewis Branscomb. Learn more about their distinguished careers, their accomplishments and their commitment to AAAS and the greater scientific enterprise.

JoAnn Valenti

JoAnn Valenti, an environmentally focused communicator devoted to the scientific community, died July 23 at the age of 78.

In 1995, Valenti was named a AAAS elected Fellow, a lifetime honor that recognizes scientists, engineers and innovators for their achievements across disciplines, from research, teaching, and technology, to administration in academia, industry and government, to excellence in communicating and interpreting science to the public. 

JoAnn Valenti
JoAnn Valenti

She was elected to the AAAS section on General Interest in Science and Engineering, a testament to her commitment to communicating science to the public. The group, also known as Section Y, is one in which Valenti held leadership positions for many years, serving as secretary, member of the Electorate Nominating Committee and council delegate. 

“During her tenure as a Section Leader and Council member, JoAnn worked tirelessly to ensure the AAAS was welcoming to women and to young scientists,” Katherine Rowan, professor emerita at George Mason University and current membership engagement chair of Section Y, told AAAS this year. “JoAnn herself would reach out at the annual meetings and throughout the year to young scientists, encouraging them to take part in the meeting, or to take a leadership role in AAAS.”

Said Rowan, “Section Y and the AAAS as a whole have benefited immensely from JoAnn's enthusiasm, feistiness, warmth, and friendship, as well as her tremendous capacity for hard work.” 

Valenti also served as a member of AAAS’ Governance Modernization Working Group, where her commitment to opening doors for young scientists deeply informed AAAS’ approach to modernizing its volunteer governance structure for the first time in more than seven decades.

Born JoAnn Myer in Miami, she earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Florida’s School of Mass Communications. She continued her education by becoming the first student in University of Florida’s mass communications graduate program, earning her degree while serving as the executive director of Florida Defenders of the Environment. 

Upon completing a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, Valenti carried out an academic career that brought her around the country. She was a faculty member at the University of Michigan, the University of Tampa, University of Florida and Brigham Young University, also teaching at Sage College in Utah and Westminster College in New York. Her research focused on communicating issues related to environmental sustainability and environmental risk, media ethics and women in communications.

Her service to the field of science communications also included serving on the board of the journals Science Communication and Applied Environmental Education and Communications, co-founding an environmental journalism fellowship program based at Hawaii’s National Tropical Botanical Garden and chairing the Rachel Carson Bok Award jury for the Society of Environmental Journalism, an organization for which Valenti was a founding academic member.

She is survived by her husband, Henry Valenti, whom she married in 1976, along with her two children and many other relatives. 

Lewis Branscomb

Lewis Branscomb, a physicist with a long career at the nexus of research science, government and industry, died May 31 at the age of 96. 

Branscomb had long been connected to AAAS, serving as a member of the AAAS Board of Directors during two terms: 1969-1973 and 1999-2003

A white-haired man with a mustache wearing a suit is speaking and gesturing with one hand
Lewis Branscomb

In 1969, he was named a AAAS elected Fellow, and in 2013, AAAS awarded him the Philip Hauge Abelson Prize for “his prolific and distinguished career in science, technology, innovation, and policy” and “his achievements in academia, in business, in government, and as a philanthropist.”

“When one thinks of unrelenting advocacy for making sound science the basis of decision making, Lewis Branscomb is one of the first names to come to mind. His career is a metaphor for effectiveness at the interface of science and policy,” said oceanographer James McCarthy in nominating Branscomb for the award. McCarthy added, “Legions of public leaders, peers and former students are more effective today in their uses and pursuit of science for the public good because of Lewis Branscomb's lifelong contributions.”

Branscomb received his B.A. in physics from Duke University in 1945 and his Ph.D. in physics from Harvard in 1949, where he was also appointed Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows. In 1951, Branscomb joined what was then the National Bureau of Standards as a research physicist. 

A co-founder of the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics at the University of Colorado, his research focused on atomic and molecular negative ions and their role in the atmospheres of Earth and stars. 

By 1969, Branscomb was appointed by President Richard Nixon as the director of the NBS, today known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology. A 1972 article in Science lauded Branscomb as one of the "rising and brighter stars" of the Washington science scene and noted that he brought a "low-profile and somewhat sleepy agency to such eminence after only 2 1/2 years as its director.”

In 1972, he left the government for industry, joining IBM as vice president and chief scientist, yet he remained a prominent figure in the world of science policy. In 1980 President Carter appointed him to the National Science Board becoming chairman between 1982 and 1984. He served President Reagan on the National Productivity Advisory Committee.

In 2012, Branscomb helped launch the Center for Science and Democracy at the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists, with a goal of "strengthening American democracy by advancing the essential role of science, evidence-based decision making, and constructive debate" in public policy making. 

He is survived by his wife, Constance Mullin Branscomb, as well as other family members.

Image credits:
JoAnn Valenti
Joi Ito/Flickr CC BY 2.0 DEED
Walrus32/Flickr CC BY 2.0 DEED

Author

Andrea Korte

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