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Richard B. Alley Receives 2012 AAAS Public Engagement with Science Award

AAAS has named Richard B. Alley as the recipient of the 2012 AAAS Public Engagement with Science Award, recognizing “his decades-long, broad-based and exceptionally effective efforts communicating the best of climate science to excite the interests of the general public and policymakers.”

Alley—who serves as Evan Pugh Professor in Penn State’s department of geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute within the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences—has provided advice and scientific information on climate change to the White House and other policymakers through briefings, testimonies, fact-finding trips, and written materials, AAAS noted.

Shirley Malcom, head of Education and Human Resources at AAAS, noted that “Dr. Alley has made climate-change science broadly accessible to the public while also making important contributions to high-level scientific initiatives.”

His many contributions to science have included work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Abrupt Climate Change, the Polar Research Board, the Koshland Science Museum, and the Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Report on Arctic paleoclimates. Alley’s efforts to engage the public with science have included the three-hour PBS miniseries “Earth: The Operators’ Manual,” and contributions to more than a dozen science documentaries, some based on his book, Two-Mile Time Machine, which received the Phi Beta Kappa science award. “He also regularly offers lectures to peers as well as to elementary-school students, scouts, and church groups, averaging roughly one appearance per week,” Malcom added.

Richard Alley at the Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand during filming of the NSF-sponsored PBS TV Series Earth: The Operators’ Manual | Photo courtesy of Penn State Department of Geosciences

Alley frequently responds to requests from science journalists to help communicate climate-change science to the public, according to his Penn State colleague Lee R. Kump, a professor of head of the geosciences department. At the same time, Alley has been honored for his innovative teaching and mentoring at Penn State, Kump reported. For example, Alley traveled to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in Arizona as well as the top of Mesa Verde in Colorado with his earth science students to create new educational materials. A public-broadcasting film crew accompanied the group, resulting in a regional Emmy Award-winning film as well as a university course featuring a customized textbook, numerous slide shows, and whiteboard lectures, all of which are now freely available to the public.

Alley is a well-respected researcher, having conducted more than a dozen field expeditions to ice sheets and glaciers. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his research, and he is the author or co-author of more than 225 scientific papers that have been cited well over 12,000 times in the refereed literature. Two of Alley’s more recent honors have been the $100,000 Heinz Award for leadership in climate and polar ice studies, and inclusion in U.S. News and World Report’s STEM Leadership Hall of Fame.

Alley’s many contributions to climate-change research have included his efforts to demonstrate that regional to global climate changes larger than any experienced by agricultural or industrial humans have occurred repeatedly, in decades to as little as a single year. Through data analysis and modeling, he has shed light on ice-bed interactions with implications for rapid glacier flow and sea-level change, and for the interpretation of geological records, climatic changes, and mountain-belt evolution. He contributed extensively to the techniques available for measuring ice-core properties, and for the accurate and confident conversion of well-dated histories of temperature, accumulation rates, and other paleoclimatic variables.

Alley earned his Ph.D. degree in geology, with a minor in materials science, in 1987 from the University of Wisconsin. He received his master’s and bachelor’s degrees from The Ohio State University. He worked as an assistant scientist at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1980s, and then accepted a position in 1988 as an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University. He was soon promoted to associate professor, professor, and Evan Pugh Professor.

He has delivered invited presentations and testimony to U.S. government officials in multiple administrations, encompassing the offices of the U.S. Vice President and the President’s science advisor, plus two Senate and five House committees or subcommittees, various senators and representatives, and one senator of France. He at one point traveled to Greenland with 10% of the U.S. Senate.

The AAAS Award for Public Engagement with Science, established in 1987, recognizes scientists and engineers who make outstanding contributions to the “popularization of science.” The award conveys a monetary prize of $5000, a commemorative plaque, complimentary registration, and travel to the AAAS Annual Meeting.
Read more about the AAAS Award for Public Engagement with Science.

Learn more about events at the 2013 AAAS Annual Meeting, 14-18 February in Boston.