AAS Press Officer to Receive NASA Medal for Eclipse Outreach
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The American Astronomical Society (AAS) is thrilled to announce that AAS Press Officer Dr. Richard Tresch Fienberg is being honored with NASA’s Exceptional Public Achievement Medal “for exceptional service to the nation in [his] tireless efforts for the public’s safe solar viewing of the 2017 total solar eclipse.”
In the run-up to the “Great American” eclipse of 21 August 2017, Rick Fienberg led the AAS Solar Eclipse Task Force’s effort to develop and disseminate reliable eye-safety information and to promote the widespread distribution of safe solar-viewing glasses and filters. Working closely with NASA’s eclipse team as well as medical and technical experts in solar-eclipse eye safety*, Fienberg produced safety messaging that won the endorsement of the leading US and Canadian ophthalmological and optometric societies. Those professional organizations, as well as the AAS, NASA, and the National Solar Observatory, all spoke with the same voice, ensuring that the public heard the same information from astronomers and eye doctors about what types of solar viewers and filters are safe and when and how to use them.
With funding from the National Science Foundation, the AAS created a solar-eclipse website at eclipse.aas.org. Fienberg wrote and updated the site’s safety pages, which included lists of vendors selling solar viewers and filters certified to meet the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard for such products. With just weeks to go before the eclipse, reports surfaced of counterfeit and possibly dangerous eclipse glasses flooding the online marketplace. Fienberg took it upon himself to contact every vendor he could identify, examine their product certification and test reports, and update the AAS eclipse website daily — sometimes even hourly — to inform the public where they could acquire genuinely safe solar viewers. He became the “go to” source of accurate eclipse-safety information for print, broadcast, and online media, responding to countless requests for interviews right up to the day of the eclipse, when he was on vacation to experience the spectacle himself in central Oregon.
"I'm delighted to hear that Rick is being recognized for his tireless work on safe eclipse watching," says Dr. Angela Speck (University of Missouri), co-chair of the AAS Solar Eclipse Task Force. "Without his efforts we would undoubtedly have had many more problems before and during the eclipse." A NASA-funded study by the University of Michigan found that the eclipse had the most engagement of any event in recent American history, with at least 88% of US adults participating — more than 154 million in person and 60 million more via digital media. Remarkably, very few incidents of eclipse-related eye injury have been reported — a fact that NASA credits largely to Fienberg's efforts.
NASA’s Exceptional Public Achievement Medal is awarded to an individual who is not a government employee for a significant specific achievement or substantial improvement in operations, efficiency, service, financial savings, science, or technology that contributes to the agency’s mission. Fienberg will receive the medal at a ceremony held at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, on 24 October 2018.
“This is a tremendous honor for Rick,” says AAS Executive Officer Dr. Kevin B. Marvel. “I thought he deserved a medal for all the work he did helping to prepare the country for the Great American Eclipse on top of his regular duties as AAS Press Officer — and now he’s getting one!”
Fienberg has been AAS Press Officer since 2009. From 1986 to 2008 he served in a variety of editorial and management positions at Sky & Telescope magazine, including eight years as Editor in Chief. He is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The International Astronomical Union (IAU), which he serves as President-Elect of Commission C2, “Communicating Astronomy with the Public,” has named asteroid 9983 Rickfienberg in his honor. Following the August 2017 solar eclipse, he was appointed to Technical Committee 94, Subcommittee 6 of the International Organization for Standardization, the group responsible for maintaining the ISO 12312-2 safety standard for solar viewers.
Though trained as a professional astronomer, Rick remains an amateur at heart, observing the sky and taking astrophotos from his private observatory in central New Hampshire. An inveterate traveler, often in pursuit of total solar eclipses (the 2017 total eclipse was his 13th), Rick has visited all seven continents and the North and South Poles.
*In addition to Rick Fienberg, key contributors to the AAS/NASA eclipse-safety messaging include eclipse meteorologist Jay Anderson, optometrist (and coauthor of the ISO 12312-2 standard) B. Ralph Chou, amateur astronomer Terry Cuttle, science educator Ralph Emerson, eclipse astronomer Fred Espenak, NASA outreach scientist Lou Mayo, eclipse-chasing cardiologist Mario Motta, and peripatetic astronomer Jay Pasachoff (who has observed more solar eclipses of all types, all over the world, than any other living person).
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Rick Fienberg, Press Officer of the American Astronomical Society and recipient of NASA’s 2018 Exceptional Public Achievement Medal. AAS photo by Joson Images.
The AAS, established in 1899, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. The membership (approx. 7,500) also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the American Astronomical Society is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe, which it achieves through publishing, meeting organization, education and outreach, and training and professional development.