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George Fritz Benedict
AAS Secretary
McDonald Observatory

The AAS needs your help in getting due recognition for our most outstanding colleagues. Nominations and letters of support for the AAS prizes for 2015 must arrive in the Secretary's office by 30 June 2014. Members may obtain the prize-nomination instructions on our Prize Nominations page.

Submissions are welcome electronically ( or by mail (G. F. Benedict, McDonald Observatory, 1 University Station, Austin, TX 78712). Shortly after that date, they are distributed to the several prize committees. Consequently, late submissions cannot be accommodated.

In recent years the AAS prize committees have noted the small slates of worthy candidates from whom they may choose. This particularly applies to the junior prizes. To address this dwindling number of nominations your Council approved a change to the ground-rules for the Warner and Pierce Prizes. For these prizes (but no others) self-nominations are allowed, with a nomination package consisting of a CV, publication list, and three letters of support. The Warner and Pierce Prize Committee will be blind regarding self-nominations versus outside nominations. Please note: letters of support for the Warner and Pierce Prizes must not include any language indicating that the letter author is nominating the person.

Bear in mind that it is not only the monetary prize but also the honor and distinction that can mean so much to a young astronomer’s career. The award of a prize also adds luster to her/his department or institution in the eyes of the academic community.

Please address any questions regarding prizes to the AAS Secretary.

Andrew Fraknoi
Foothill College

A new resource guide for those doing astronomy outreach is now available in the education area of the AAS website. Compiled by the undersigned, it is called the MOOSE, which stands for "Menu of Outreach Opportunities in Science Education." The guide was assembled for the AAS Astronomy Ambassadors program, which provides early-career astronomers with workshops and a national community to assist them in reaching classrooms, community organizations, and public audiences more effectively.

The MOOSE's 12 sections cover existing astronomy outreach programs, places around the country to do outreach, training manuals, evaluation resources, websites for finding good images and hands-on activities, and presentation techniques.

We hope you'll find the guide useful. We welcome suggestions for additional items to include in it; please email them to the AAS.

Richard Tresch Fienberg
Press Officer
American Astronomical Society (AAS)

Fifteen members of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) traveled to Washington, DC, 25-26 March to thank Congress for recent appropriations supporting the astronomical sciences and to express the need for sustained and predictable federal funding of scientific research, which is critically important to American economic growth.

The delegation was part of a group of more than 275 scientists, engineers, and business leaders from nearly all 50 states converging on Capitol Hill for the 19th annual Congressional Visits Day (CVD), sponsored by the Science-Engineering-Technology Work Group. CVD is coordinated by coalitions of companies, professional societies, and educational institutions whose members feel strongly that science and technology comprise the cornerstone of our nation’s future.

“We had more than four times as many volunteers as we could accommodate,” notes Dr. Joshua Shiode, the AAS’s John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellow. “This reflects our members’ deep appreciation of the federal government’s support for what we do. At the same time, the preponderance of early-career participants underscores how the current climate of fiscal uncertainty presents special concerns for younger scientists.”

Participants spent their first day in briefings about the federal budget process, then attended a reception with at least seven members of Congress and 60 congressional staffers. The next day was devoted to visits with legislators. AAS members met with 38 members of Congress or their staff, and the full cohort of visitors logged more than 1,300 such meetings. CVD participants discussed the importance of the nation’s broad portfolio of investments in science, engineering, and technology to promoting prosperity and innovation. Most importantly, they provided a constituent perspective on the local and national impact of these programs and their significance to virtually every region of the country.

Left to right: Benjamin Schmitt, Anna Ho, Tom Koshut, Mel Ulmer, Sara Barber, Sarah Jaeggli, Summer Ash,
Kelly Korreck (half hidden), Cynthia Froning, Daniel Dale, Nicole Cabrera, Ramin Skibba, Joshua Shiode,
Roberto Avila, Michael Lucas, Margaret McAdam, and Carrie Black. AAS photo by Joel Parriott.

(High-resolution version — 2.3-megabyte JPG)

“I learned how to communicate better with policymakers, what their interests and concerns are, and how the budget-making process works,” says Dr. Ramin Skibba, a project scientist at the University of California, San Diego. “I’m now trying to develop relationships with my state and local legislators, and I’m considering applying for science policy fellowships or other policy positions.”

“I had an amazing experience on Capitol Hill,” says fellow Sara Barber, a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma. “I gained an appreciation for the level of clout I have as a constituent and really enjoyed advocating for the importance of stable federal funding of science research, an issue that I am very passionate about.”

More than 50% of all industrial innovation and growth in the United States since World War II can be attributed to advances pioneered through scientific research, with publicly funded research and development the vital foundation for today’s scientific and technological progress. Achievements from federally funded science, engineering, and technology include global environmental monitoring, lasers, liquid crystal displays, the Internet, and many other scientific and technical advances. Even astronomical research, sometimes considered of no practical value, has provided numerous tangible benefits, including major contributions to science education; applications of its technology in medicine, industry, defense, environmental monitoring, and consumer products; and opportunities for international cooperation.

The federal government supports a unique research and education enterprise that fuels the American economy. This enterprise provides the underpinning of high-technology industries and expands the frontiers of knowledge in every field of science. Much of this research is carried out at academic institutions across the country ensuring knowledge transfer to future generations of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, physicians and teachers. Additionally, technology transfer from academic research adds billions of dollars to the economy each year and supports tens of thousands of jobs.

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

Dr. Joshua Shiode
AAS John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellow
+1 202-328-2010 x113

AAS members participating in CVD 2014:

  • Summer Ash, Columbia University, New York, NY, Postdoc
  • Roberto Avila, Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD, Early Career
  • Sara Barber, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, Graduate Student
  • Nicole Cabrera, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, Graduate Student
  • Daniel Dale, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, Mid-Career
  • Cynthia Froning, University of Texas, Austin, TX, Mid-Career
  • Anna Ho, MIT, Cambridge, MA, Undergraduate
  • Sarah Jaeggli, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, Postdoc
  • Kelly Korreck, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, MA, Mid-Career
  • Tom Koshut, University of Alabama, Huntsville, AL, Mid-Career
  • Michael Lucas, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, Graduate Student
  • Margaret McAdam, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, Graduate Student
  • Benjamin Schmitt, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, Graduate Student
  • Ramin Skibba, University of California, San Diego, CA, Early Career
  • Melville Ulmer, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, Late Career

Tom Koshut is a member of the AAS Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy. AAS participation in CVD was coordinated by Joel Parriott, AAS Director of Public Policy, and  Joshua Shiode, AAS John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellow. Special assistance was provided by Jennifer Greenamoyer, AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the American Institute of Physics, and Carrie Black, NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

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 7,000 also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe.

The Science-Engineering-Technology Work Group is an information network comprising professional, scientific, and engineering societies, institutions of higher learning, and trade associations. The sponsors represent more than a million researchers and professionals in science and engineering. The Work Group is concerned about the future vitality of the US science, mathematics, and engineering enterprise.

Gerard M. Williger
University of Louisville

Professional astronomers, faculty, postdocs, and graduate and undergraduate students in astronomy in Kentucky and the surrounding area are invited to a one-day meeting to foster closer ties to support research and teaching in astronomy.

  • Date: Saturday, 3 May 2014
  • Location: Lexington, KY
  • Venue: William Young Library, University of Kentucky

We aim to start around 10 am EDT and finish by 4:30 pm. This meeting is a test of a new American Astronomical Society format for regional meetings. There is no registration fee.

For more information, including the day's program, a list of participants, and registration instructions, please visit the AAS Kentucky Area Meeting website.

Richard Tresch Fienberg
Press Officer
American Astronomical Society (AAS)

Adapted from a National Science Foundation press release:

France A. Córdova was sworn in today as the 14th director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a six-year term. John Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor, will lead a special ceremony at NSF to mark the occasion on 2 April. Córdova was confirmed by the US Senate on 12 March 2014.

“I am deeply honored to lead this prestigious organization,” Córdova said. “I would like to thank and recognize Dr. Cora Marrett for her outstanding stewardship of the Foundation as acting NSF Director over the last year. I look forward to working with the Administration, Congress, the scientific community and NSF staff in advancing scientific discovery, technological innovation, and STEM education. I am especially eager to engage with the public on science and its importance to our nation’s prosperity and global leadership.”

Córdova is president emerita of Purdue University, where she served as president from 2007 to 2012. From 2002 to 2007, she led the University of California at Riverside as chancellor and was a distinguished professor of physics and astronomy. Previously, Córdova was the vice chancellor for research and professor of physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara from 1996 to 2002.

From 1993 to 1996, Córdova served as NASA’s chief scientist. She was on the faculty of the Pennsylvania State University and was head of the department of astronomy and astrophysics from 1989 to 1993. Córdova was deputy group leader in the Earth and space sciences division at Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1988 to 1989 and staff scientist from 1979 to 1989.

Most recently, Córdova served as chair of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution and as a member of the National Science Board, where she chaired the Committee on Strategy and Budget. She received a BA degree from Stanford University and a PhD from the California Institute of Technology.

Córdova was nominated by President Obama to become the NSF director on 31 July 2013, and re-nominated by the President on 6 January 2014. She succeeds Subra Suresh, who stepped down in March 2013.

As part of his remarks in nominating Córdova and others to key Administration posts last July, the President said, “The extraordinary dedication these individuals bring to their new roles will greatly serve the American people. I am grateful they have agreed to serve in this Administration and I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come.”

Richard Tresch Fienberg
Press Officer
American Astronomical Society (AAS)


A film about the NSF-funded Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatories (LIGO) will premiere online on on 15 April, documenting the science and people behind an amazing astronomical tool designed to catch sight of violent cosmic events trillions of miles from Earth. Produced by filmmaker Kai Staats, the new documentary, titled LIGO, A Passion for Understanding, follows scientists working with LIGO. This is the first installment to a multi-video series.

Operated by teams from the California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, LIGO's observatories use 4-kilometer-long laser beams to hunt for gravitational waves — ripples in space-time created by cataclysmic events in the cosmos. The LIGO scientific collaboration consists of more than 550 scientists from more than 40 institutions worldwide, such as University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the University of Florida, Caltech, MIT, Syracuse, and the University of Mississippi, to name just a few.

LIGO's enhanced run ended in 2010, but the Advanced LIGO project featuring newly upgraded instruments is set to begin its run in late 2015. Advanced LIGO will probe deeper into the universe in search of gravitational waves.

You can watch the trailer for LIGO, A Passion for Understanding on or directly on filmmaker Kai Staats's website.

— Posted on behalf of Ivy Kupec, Public Affairs Specialist, National Science Foundation

S. Alan Stern

Doctoral students needing funds to report their research results at scientific meetings may apply to Uwingu for travel grants via the form at; applications are due no later than 11:59 pm PDT on 30 April 2014.

A total of 10 to 15 awards up to $1,500 are expected to be announced the week of 2 June. Any graduate students completing their PhD in 2014 in planetary science and/or exoplanet studies is eligible. For questions, contact Uwingu by email.

Uwingu ("Sky" in Swahili) is a space company led by planetary scientists to increase public engagement in space exploration and generate grant funds for space research and education.

Richard Tresch Fienberg
Press Officer
American Astronomical Society (AAS)

NASA has issued a Request for Information (RFI) soliciting potential partners interested in using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) aircraft for scientific investigations or for other potential uses.

NASA's Fiscal Year 2015 budget request to Congress calls for SOFIA to be placed in storage next year unless the agency's contribution to the project can be replaced.

Various partnership levels will be considered. Partnerships can range from joining as a major partner to securing flights on a night-by-night basis. Costs are estimated at approximately $1 million per night for a dedicated mission. Due to the current budget situation, partnership arrangements would be initiated immediately in order to be in place prior to 1 October 2014. Potential partners are invited to submit their interest or questions in writing as soon as possible, but prior to 1 May 2014.

The RFI is available at

SOFIA is the world's largest airborne astronomical observatory, complementing NASA's space telescopes, as well as major Earth-based telescopes. It features a German-built far-infrared telescope with an effective diameter of 100 inches (2.5 meters). The telescope weighs 19 tons (38,000 lb.) and is mounted in the rear fuselage of a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft.

Flying at altitudes of between 39,000 and 45,000 feet (12 and 14 kilometers) and above 99% of the water vapor in the atmosphere, SOFIA facilitates observations that are unobtainable from telescopes on the ground. Because SOFIA can fly virtually anywhere in the world, change instruments between flights, and implement new capabilities, it provides greater adaptability than any space-based telescope.

SOFIA is a joint program of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, DLR). The program is managed and the aircraft is based at Armstrong Flight Research Center. NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., manages SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association in Columbia, Md., and the Deutsches SOFIA Institut in Stuttgart, Germany.

 Adapted from a NASA press release.

Sebastian Jester
Bundesministerium Fur Bildung Und Forschung

At the beginning of 2014, the European Union (EU) launched a new 7-year funding program, Horizon 2020 (see this Physics Today article). There is a continuous need for experts to review funding proposals, including astronomers and physicists. If you are interested, please register through the Experts area on the Horizon 2020 Participant Portal.

Reviewers receive a fee for days spent reviewing, both at home and at committee meetings in Brussels, and are reimbursed for travel costs. Being an expert evaluator also is a great way to find out what makes a successful proposal. Experts of any nationality and working anywhere in the world are welcome.

In addition, participation in EU-funded projects is open to researchers from all over the world, though participants from industrialized countries outside the EU are not automatically eligible to receive EU funding. For more information, see the Horizon 2020 page on international cooperation.