Feeling diplomatic? Become an astronomy ambassador!

Nixon in China, meeting Chairman Mao; his visit was the subject of a famous opera by American composer John Adams (sample movement: "The Chairman Dances"). Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1972_Nixon_visit_to_China

Scientists have, historically, not mixed well with politics.  Lavoisier, the man who discovered (debatably) hydrogen and oxygen, was executed in the Terror during the French Revolution for being a tax collector. Liebniz, co-inventor (debatably!) of calculus, spent many weeks on the roads of Europe traveling in diplomatic service for German princes, only for the great and good to snub his funeral despite being only miles distant. Tolman-Oppenheimer-Volkoff limit co-discoverer J. Robert Oppenheimer was hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee and excoriated as a communist; later, hydrogen-bomb designer Edward Teller was excoriated for testifying against him.

If these examples have you worried, but you still crave your Nixon-in-China moment, never fear.  A “diplomacy” role involving a bit less risk to one’s reputation (and neck—Lavoisier was guillotined!) is available, ready-made, as an ambassador for astrophysics.  Following the lead of former AAS President Debra Elmegreen, the AAS has established a program to train and mentor advanced undergraduates, PhD students, and early-career researchers as astronomy ambassadors.  She was inspired to suggest the program because, apparently, fewer than one in five Americans can name a living scientist.  I, for one, did not know we were that rare a breed!

Fewer than 1 in 5 Americans can name a living scientist (does Bill Nye count?). From AAS website: http://aas.org/education/ambassadors


But perhaps this is not so surprising when one considers that a scientist’s day to day job may involve little contact with the public, and scientists may be clustered around research universities rather than as homogeneously distributed geographically  as other professions.  After all, one needs doctors—and has lawyers—nearly everywhere! Not so with scientists, especially astronomers.

The astronomy ambassadors program is to offer mentoring, an online community, and pre-designed outreach resources to those who join.  The AAS hopes to recruit around 30 people for the inaugural class, which will kick off with a conference in Long Beach, CA, in January 2013.  Applications are due in October, and you can read more here:

About Zachary Slepian

I’m a 2nd year grad student in Astronomy at Harvard, working with Daniel Eisenstein on the effect of relative velocities between regular and dark matter on the baryon acoustic oscillations. I did my undergrad at Princeton, where I worked with Rich Gott on dark energy, Jeremy Goodman on dark matter, and Roman Rafikov on planetesimals. I also spent a year at Oxford getting a master’s in philosophy of physics, which remains an interest.

1 Comment

  1. Hi Astrobites Community-
    I hope you’ll join us in Long Beach for the Astronomy Ambassadors workshop! The program is designed to help you engage in effective astronomy outreach and become the face of science in your community. There’s no better science role model for K-12 students than a young astronomer (and Astrobites reader/contributor)! Remember the deadline for registering is Oct. 24. Hope to see you there.
    Debra Elmegreen,
    Past President, AAS


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