AAS Press Officer Richard Tresch Fienberg to Retire in September 2021
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Astronomer and science communicator Rick Fienberg has announced that he will retire as Press Officer of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) effective 1 September 2021, the 12th anniversary of his start date in the position. The Society will begin the search for a successor in early 2021.
Rick has built on the considerable legacy of his predecessor, Stephen P. Maran, to expand the services that the Society provides to science writers in connection with its semiannual meetings. In particular he streamlined the press-registration process, started posting media advisories and press kits online, began webcasting press conferences to journalists unable to attend in person, and established the AAS Press Office YouTube channel as a place to archive those briefings.
He helped the AAS Division for Planetary Sciences improve the press services at its annual meetings, conceived the “Astronomy in the News” feature and built the Press Office section on the AAS website, helped define the AAS Nova news service and hire its Editor, and created the @AAS_Press Twitter account. He also forwarded more than 12,000 astronomy-related press releases to an email list of more than 2,000 science writers worldwide before the Society decided that this service had grown so time-consuming and redundant that it needed to be curtailed.
“Rick has been a spectacular Press Officer and an exceptionally valuable member of the AAS Executive Office team,” says Kevin B. Marvel, AAS Executive Officer. “Attempting to replace all that he does for the Society would take at least two people. I will be sad to see him leave AAS employment next September but am tremendously pleased that he has helped us do so much over the years.”
Rick earned his BA in physics at Rice University and his MA and PhD in astronomy at Harvard University. After realizing that he enjoyed teaching, writing, and talking about astronomy more than he liked doing research, he moved full-time into science communication. 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 spent the 2008-2009 academic year as Visiting Scientist in Astronomy & Astrophysics at Phillips Academy, the prestigious college-preparatory school in Andover, Massachusetts.
Rick is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The International Astronomical Union (IAU), which he currently serves as President of Commission C2, Communicating Astronomy with the Public, has named asteroid 9983 Rickfienberg in his honor. He is co-creator of the Galileoscope educational telescope kit, a Cornerstone Project of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 and the International Year of Light 2015. In 2018 NASA awarded him its 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.”
At the Stellafane convention and star party in 2019, the North East Region of the Astronomical League (NERAL), celebrating Rick’s role in the AAS’s acquisition of Sky & Telescope after the magazine’s previous owner declared bankruptcy, gave him the Walter Scott Houston Award for his “many years enlightening [amateur astronomers] and educating the public.” He is again writing regularly for the magazine as Senior Contributing Editor.
“It is hard to imagine the AAS without Rick,” says Society President Paula Szkody (University of Washington). “He has been such a positive force in our communications with members and the entire astronomical community. His help with messages that come out from the Society, his handling of the press conferences at our meetings, and his new ideas on how to get astronomy information out there have been a tremendous service. I know I speak for all AAS Presidents over the past 12 years in saying a big THANK YOU to Rick!”
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, he has visited all seven continents and the North and South Poles. Though he’ll no longer be working for the AAS after August 2021, he’ll continue to serve the Society in a volunteer capacity as Program Manager of the AAS Solar Eclipse Task Force, which will help coordinate preparations for the 14 October 2023 annular eclipse and the 8 April 2024 total eclipse, both of which will cross North America.
Dr. Richard Tresch Fienberg of the American Astronomical Society and Sky & Telescope. Credit: Photo by Phil McCarten, CorporateEventImages © 2019 American Astronomical Society
The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Its membership (approx. 8,000) also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising the astronomical sciences. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe, which it achieves through publishing, meeting organization, science advocacy, education and outreach, and training and professional development.