22 February 2019

David J. Helfand Named AIP Board Chair

Rick Fienberg, AAS Press Officer

This post is adapted from an AIP press release:

David J. HelfandThe American Institute of Physics (AIP) announced on 22 February 2019 that its Board of Directors has elected astrophysicist David J. Helfand as its new chair. He begins his appointment effective 1 March.

Helfand is a faculty member of Columbia University in New York, where he has worked for 42 years and served as chair of the Department of Astronomy nearly half that time. He is the author of more than 200 scientific articles and has mentored 22 doctoral students during that tenure. He is also known for teaching science to non-science majors in a fun and creative, storytelling manner. Helfand wrote a book, A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age, released in 2016, that provides essential tools to combat what he calls "the tsunami of mis- and dis-information that threatens to drown all rational approaches to personal decision-making and the formation of good public policy."

In his new role, Helfand will be responsible for providing leadership to AIP's Board of Directors and will guide their efforts overseeing governance, policy, and corporate strategy for the Institute, a mission-driven nonprofit organization based in College Park, Maryland, devoted to advancing, promoting, and serving the physical sciences for the benefit of humanity.

Helfand will also chair the Board of Managers for AIP Publishing, a wholly owned nonprofit subsidiary of AIP based in Melville, New York. AIP Publishing advances the physical sciences by publishing journals and providing services and tools for the scientific community. Helfand has already served on AIP Publishing's Board as interim chair since September 2018.

"We are delighted to welcome David to lead our Board of Directors," said AIP CEO Michael Moloney. "For the last few months, he has guided AIP and AIP Publishing while serving as interim Board chair, and his steady leadership will be invaluable as we move to plan and implement a new long-term vision and strategy for the Institute." Helfand became interim Board chair in mid-2018. His appointment as permanent Board chair follows a national search.

"One of the most important challenges of our time is to re-establish the centrality of evidence-based, rational decision-making in both personal and public affairs," Helfand said. He identified a number of AIP activities that already address this challenge, including

  • The TEAM-UP project, which is investigating the persistent underrepresentation of African-American undergraduate students in physics and astronomy, with support from AIP's Statistical Research Center;
  • The FYI newsletter, which informs scientists, government leaders, and lawmakers on the latest science policy information and analysis;
  • AIP's flagship publication Physics Today, a highly-regarded magazine that serves members of the physical science communities;
  • Public Policy staff at AIP, who works directly with AIP member societies to enhance communication with members of Congress and federal agencies;
  • AIP's efforts in science communication and student programs, which he said are both essential for attacking the problem.

Helfand grew up in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, and attended Amherst College in Massachusetts, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in astronomy in 1973. He subsequently earned a master's in physics and a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Massachusetts in 1977.

Helfand is deeply involved within the astronomy community and served from 2011 to 2014 as President of the AAS, which is one of 10 AIP Member Societies. "David was a great AAS President, and I know he has been an excellent AAS representative to the AIP Board," says AAS Executive Officer Kevin Marvel. "His appointment as Board chair confirms this and shows that his fellow Board members recognize the same leadership characteristics he displayed so clearly while serving as AAS President. I look forward to helping AIP accomplish its mission with David at the helm, while we seek to identify a replacement for the open position of AAS Member Representative to the AIP Board."