Professor Frank D. Drake Awarded First AAS Educational Prize

January 25, 2001

Contact: Dr. Steve Maran, AAS Press Officer

WASHINGTON, DC--The American Astronomical Society (AAS) announces the selection of five distinguished astronomers to receive awards from the Society. The awardees include Frank D. Drake, a founder of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and Wallace L.W. Sargent, former Director of Palomar Observatory. A world authority on intergalactic gas, Sargent was named to the AAS’s highest honor, the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, which recognizes “a lifetime of eminence in astronomical research.” Drake is the first winner of AAS’s new award, the AAS Education Prize.

Here is the full slate of awardees:

Dr. Frank D. Drake of the University of California, Santa Cruz and the SETI Institute, Mountain View, CA, is awarded the AAS Education Prize, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the education of the public, of students and of the next generation of professional astronomers. Drake originated the famous “Drake Equation,” used to estimate the probability of detecting radio signals from extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy. The citation for his award reads:

“Dr. Frank Drake is awarded the AAS Education Prize in recognition of his inspiration and leadership in many areas of education and public outreach in astronomy. His wide-ranging popularizations, his tireless help for journalists, and his championship of education and public information through the SETI Institute have helped scientists, educators, and the world at large to think rationally about life in the cosmos. His innovative courses in astronomy for non-science majors, his mentorship of undergraduate and graduate astronomy students, and his development of the science of SETI through Project Ozma, the Drake Equation, and now Project Phoenix have brought the excitement of the cosmic quest to several generations. In the process, he has educated us all.”

Dr. Wallace L. W. Sargent of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena receives the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, chosen annually on the basis of a lifetime of eminence in astronomical research. The citation for the Lectureship reads:
“The Henry Norris Russell Lectureship for 2001 is awarded to Dr. Wallace L. W. Sargent for his contributions to astronomical spectroscopy. His work in stellar spectroscopy of A-type stars led to the discovery of the He3 isotope in the star 3 Centauri. He involved many of his students in his work in extragalactic spectroscopy, which produced the first evidence for a black hole in the galaxy M87 and culminated with his studies of quasar absorption lines. His demonstration that the Lyman-alpha forest absorption arises from intergalactic primordial gas clouds provided a fundamental new probe of primeval gas in the early universe. Throughout his career he has been an intellectual leader and educator.”
Dr. Kenneth Sembach of The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore is winner of the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize, which normally is awarded annually for outstanding achievement, over the past five years, in observational astronomical research based on measurements of radiation from an astronomical object. The Pierce Prize citation reads:
“Dr. Sembach is awarded the Pierce Prize for 2001 in recognition of work that has been important in increasing our understanding of the structure and elemental abundances of the gaseous component of the galaxy, especially of the galactic halo, as well as in discovering new facets of the high velocity cloud phenomenon in the galactic periphery.”
Dr. Uros Seljak of Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, is winner of the Helen B. Warner Prize for Astronomy, normally awarded annually for a significant contribution to observational or theoretical astronomy during the five years preceding the award. The citation reads,
“Dr. Seljak is awarded the Warner Prize for 2001 for his contributions to the theoretical understanding of the cosmic microwave background anisotropies and to the development of numerical and analytical tools that have been widely adopted for the comparison of observational data and cosmological models in that area.”
Both the Pierce Prize and the Warner Prize are subject to the condition that they are “given to an astronomer who has not attained 36 years of age in the year designated for the award. The recipient shall be a resident of North America, including Hawaii and Puerto Rico, or a member of a North American institution, stationed abroad.”

Dr. Michael J. Kurtz of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, MA receives the George Van Biesbroeck Prize for 2001, which, normally awarded annually, honors a living individual for long-term extraordinary or unselfish service to astronomy, often beyond the requirements of his or her paid position. The prize committee commented that:

“Dr. Kurtz is the visionary designer of the Astrophysics Data System (ADS) which clearly has revolutionized for over a decade the speed and thoroughness in which astronomers now can search and access the vast and still growing technical literature. He started with a new and efficient algorithm to search the literature, and has masterminded the design of the online abstract service within ADS. It is impressive to note that the formative years of ADS-development were quite on his own; Kurtz then was without institutional support for the system. He devoted his time and energy in an unselfish manner to constantly improve a system upon which we now all depend.”

Editor’s Notes:

To obtain photographs or additional data on the awardees, or to arrange interviews, please contact:

For Dr. Frank D. Drake:
Dr. Seth Shostak
SETI Institute, Mountain View, CA

For Prof. Wallace L. W. Sargent:
Mr. Robert Tindol
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA

For Dr. Kenneth Sembach:
Mr. Michael Purdy
The John Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD

For Dr. Uros Selja:
Mr. Steven Schultz
Princeton University, Princeton, NJ

For Dr. Michael J. Kurtz:
Dr. Philip M. Sadler
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, MA


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