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Nominations Needed for Public Engagement Award

The need for effective science communicators is clear as science-based issues such as climate change, stem cell research, synthetic biology, neuroscience, and evolution become social and political flashpoints. Yet, traditional reward systems such as tenure and grants typically have not recognized efforts to build constructive public engagement with science and technology.

In response, a new AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science has been established to recognize such efforts, and to “send a powerful message about the value of science communication activities,” said AAAS CEO and Science Executive Publisher Alan I. Leshner.

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Science communicators. Bob Hazen, a researcher and author, and his wife Margee Hazen, a writer and science historian, initiated the new AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science.
[Photo © and courtesy of Bob and Marzee Hazen]

The award, intended to encourage a lifelong commitment to science communication, was initiated by Bob and Margee Hazen and quickly garnered support from other donors, including Leshner and his wife Agnes, Science Editor-in-Chief Bruce Alberts and wife Betty, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The Noyce Foundation has contributed support for a special video featuring the award winner.

Bob Hazen, a mineralogist and science-literacy champion, said that promoting public engagement can be “a balancing act” for many researchers who must fit communication efforts into a lengthy list of priorities dominated by research, publication, and teaching.

Yet, communicating research results and engaging with non-scientists are keys to building a broad base of support for science. “Our research funding often depends on public support,” noted Hazen, who has published an array of popular science books, many in collaboration with his spouse Margee, a writer and historian of science. “Our ability to make ourselves relevant and have society listen to us on issues related to the environment, the economy, health, defense, and safety depends on our effectiveness as communicators.”

Identifying additional reward systems for early career scientists is essential, Alberts said. Those researchers “are often especially effective as ambassadors of science”—leveraging their energy and enthusiasm to make technical information accessible to non-scientists.

Nominations for the award will be accepted through 15 October, reported AAAS Public Engagement Manager Tiffany Lohwater. “The award will recognize outstanding efforts to promote interactive dialogue between scientists and non-scientific, public audiences,” she explained. “Eligible efforts might include, for instance, informal science education, public outreach, mass media communication, science cafés, exhibits, effective use of social media, or a host of other activities.”

Including a $5000 prize and support to attend the 2011 AAAS Annual Meeting, the award is open to individual early career scientists and engineers who have been working in their current field for less than seven years (at a pre-tenure or equivalent level).

Nominations will be independently reviewed by a selection committee including Bob Hazen of the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Geophysical Laboratory and George Mason University; May R. Berenbaum of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Robert Fri of Resources for the Future; Juan Gilbert of Clemson University; Bruce Lewenstein of Cornell University; Nalini Nadkarni of Evergreen State College; and past AAAS President James J. McCarthy of Harvard University.

See www.aaas.org/go/PESaward for details regarding award eligibility and nominations. To support the award endowment, go to www.aaas.org/makeagift, or contact AAAS Development Director Juli Staiano at jstaiano@aaas.org, (202) 326-7028.

Author

Ginger Pinholster

Former Director, Office of Public Programs