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Steve Maran to Receive 2011 AIP Gemant Award for Interpretation of Physics

01 Apr 2011

AAS Press Release

April 1, 2011 (updated April 3, 2011)

Dr. Rick Fienberg
AAS Press Officer
+1 202-328-2010 x116

Stephen P. MaranStephen P. Maran, former press officer and now senior advisor with the American Astronomical Society (AAS), has been chosen by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) as the 2011 recipient of the Andrew W. Gemant Award for significant contributions to the cultural, artistic, or humanistic dimension of physics. The award is made possible by a bequest of Andrew Gemant to the AIP.

Dr. Maran is an astronomer and science writer with decades of experience in the space program. The author or editor of 12 books and more than 100 popular articles on astronomy and space exploration, and many more scientific publications, he retired from NASA on October 1, 2004, after more than 35 years with the agency. On August 31, 2009, he retired after 25 years (most of them overlapping with his NASA service) as AAS press officer.

Astronomer Jay M. Pasachoff (Williams College) first met Maran at the Junior Astronomy Club in Brooklyn, New York; soon thereafter, they both participated in Project Moonwatch to track Sputnik and other early artificial satellites from the top of the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center, Manhattan. In a nominating letter to the AIP prize committee, Pasachoff wrote that Maran "ingeniously and creatively engaged the press and authors (like me) of textbooks, bringing us the latest astrophysical results in a form that was understandable. He provided liaisons between reporters and scientists and encouraged the latest astrophysical results to be brought to the general public in a way that helped not only astronomy but also science in general."

Maran's articles about science for the public have appeared in Smithsonian, Natural History, Popular Science, Scientific American, Sky & Telescope, and Astronomy magazines, in 10 encyclopedias and encyclopedia yearbooks, and in invited contributions to The Washington Post. His two most recent books, both written jointly with Laurence A. Marschall (Gettysburg College) and published in 2009, are Galileo's New Universe: The Revolution in Our Understanding of the Cosmos, and Pluto Confidential: An Insider Account of the Ongoing Battles over the Status of Pluto. Maran has traveled all over the world giving popular lectures to rapt audiences, not only at colleges and universities but also on ocean cruises and astronomy-themed tours.

Upon hearing of Maran's award, Kevin B. Marvel, the AAS's executive officer, exclaimed, "Nobody deserves it more!" He adds, "When it comes to sharing the wonders of physics and astronomy with the press and public, Steve is a trailblazer — he showed the rest of us how to do it, and how to do it right."

Debra M. Elmegreen (Vassar College) is president of the AAS. "I'm very happy to see Steve win the Gemant award," she says, "because it recognizes his valuable contributions not only to the scientific community, but also more importantly to the broader human community."

The recipient of the Gemant Award receives a $5,000 cash prize, designates an academic institution to receive a grant of $3,000 to further the public communication of physics, and is invited to deliver a public lecture in a suitable forum. Maran plans to give his Andrew W. Gemant Lecture at the AAS's 219th semiannual meeting in Austin, Texas, in January 2012.

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High-resolution photo (courtesy Stephen P. Maran):

The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899 and based in Washington, DC, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Its membership of about 7,500 individuals also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research and educational interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe. Among its many activities, the AAS publishes three of the leading peer-reviewed journals in the field: The Astrophysical Journal, The Astronomical Journal, and Astronomy Education Review.