10 April 2013

Andrew Fraknoi Wins 2013 Faraday Science Communicator Award

Andrew Fraknoi, the chair of the Astronomy Department at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California, has won the 2013 Faraday Science Communicator Award from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), given each year to an individual who has inspired and elevated the public’s interest in science. Previous winners of this prize, which is co-sponsored by the Discovery Channel, include Ira Flatow, the host of NPR’s “Science Friday.” Fraknoi accepted the award at the NSTA National Conference in San Antonio, Texas, April 12.

The award is named in honor of Michael Faraday (1791–1867), the British physicist whose pioneering experiments are the basis for our understanding of electricity, magnetism, and the relationship between the two. In addition to his work in basic science, Faraday was known as a clear writer and dynamic lecturer, who devoted much effort to explicating the scientific ideas and discoveries of his time to non-scientists. Albert Einstein had a picture of Faraday in his study, and many other scientists have held him in great esteem.

“I am especially honored to receive this award because Michael Faraday is one of my scientific heroes,” Fraknoi said. “I teach about him in my ‘Physics for Poets’ evening class, and I have always admired his legendary dedication to explaining science to the wider public.” Fraknoi also noted that “Faraday was a great proponent of rigorous, skeptical thinking and recognizing how easy it is for the mind to deceive itself. I too try to encourage students and the public to examine claims at the fringes of science with skepticism and fact-based thinking.”

Fraknoi, who was named California Professor of the Year in 2007 by the Carnegie Endowment for Higher Education, has spent much of his 40-year career on both college-level teaching and the popularization of science — through his work explaining astronomy in the media, presenting workshops for K–12 teachers, and organizing (and sometimes offering) public lectures on astronomical developments. For example, since 1999, he has been the driving force behind the Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures, which bring noted astronomers (including a Nobel laureate and several National Medal of Science winners) to the large theater at Foothill College to give public lectures. Between 400 and 900 people attend each talk in person, and thousands more see the recorded versions on iTunes and YouTube.

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), founded in 1944, is the largest organization in the world committed to promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. NSTA’s current membership of 60,000 includes science teachers, science supervisors, and others involved in and committed to science education.