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Symposium highlights science communication

March 30, 2007

Some of the nation's leading scientists and science journalists will present their perspectives on the roles of scientists and engineers in popular communication during a symposium April 2 at ASU titled “Essential Dialogues: Why Scientists and Engineers Must Not Speak in Tongues.”

The symposium, sponsored by the Hendricks Family Foundation, is one of several activities planned this spring to mark the official launch of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, a groundbreaking endeavor in higher education that fuses Earth and space sciences with engineering.

“In today's world, there can be no true ‘literacy' without scientific literacy,” says Kip Hodges, a professor and founding director of the school. “People need a basic understanding of how the universe works and how scientific principles inform the development of new technologies. And there can be no better ambassador for science and technology than a scientist or an engineer who can explain the importance of their work to non-specialists.”

The School of Earth and Space Exploration will make popular science and engineering communication an essential part of the graduate and undergraduate curricula, Hodges says.

“To underscore this mission, we've gathered some of the nation's top science writers and scientists to talk about how scientists and engineers can be most effective in how they communicate,” he says.

Among the speakers is Robert Irion, director of the science communication program at the University of California-Santa Cruz, who will address the theme of the symposium with his talk “Scientists as Journalists: Training the Next Generation.”

Irion, who has an undergraduate degree in Earth and planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a graduate certificate from the UC-Santa Cruz program, is co-author of the award-winning book “One Universe: At Home in the Cosmos.” He also received the 2003 David Schramm Award in Science Journalism from the American Astronomical Society for a story in Science magazine about neutron stars.

Natalie Angier, a Pulitzer-Prize winning New York Times science journalist and non-fiction author, will talk about “Scientists and Journalists: Can't We All Just Get Along?” The Barnard College graduate studied English, physics and astronomy while in college and dreamed of starting a popular magazine about science for intelligent lay readers. Instead, at the age of 22, she was hired as a founding staff reporter and writer for Discover, the science magazine that Time Inc. launched in 1980. Angier is the author of four books; her newest due out this spring is “The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science,” which she will talk about at a reception from noon to 1 p.m. April 3 in the Virginia G. Piper Writers House at ASU.

Charles Petit, who has covered science for more than 35 years as a newspaper, news magazine and freelance writer, will present his perspective in a talk titled “The Science Beat: News that Really is New.” Petit's career includes 26 years at the San Francisco Chronicle and several years on staff at U.S. News & World Report. His recent work has appeared in National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine and the New York Times. While he was at U.S. News, the American Association for the Advancement of Science awarded him its magazine science writing award for a set of articles on fusion research, on the first peopling of the Americas and on the computer adaptation of evolution as an engineering tool. Petit has a degree in astronomy from the University of California-Berkeley.

Seth Shostak, the senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, has written several hundred popular magazine and Web articles on various topics in astronomy, technology, film and television. He has an undergraduate degree in physics from Princeton University and a doctorate in astronomy from the California Institute of Technology. For much of his career, Shostak conducted radio astronomy research on galaxies, and has published nearly 60 papers in professional journals. Each week he hosts the SETI Institute's science radio show “Are We Alone?” broadcast on Discovery Channel Radio. His talk at the symposium is titled “Science Searches for Extraterrestrials.”

Tom Levenson, an award winning writer-producer, is an associate professor of science writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Author of several books, including the acclaimed biography “Einstein in Berlin ,” Levenson also is a Peabody and Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker who has produced a number of prime-time science documentaries. He has had several articles and reviews published in the Atlantic Monthly, the Boston Globe, Discover and the Sciences. Levenson, who has an undergraduate degree from Harvard University, will present the talk “Against ‘Science Literacy.' ”

The symposium will be held from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the Biodesign Institute Auditorium, B Building, on ASU's Tempe campus.

Also planned as part of the official launch activities is a second symposium titled “Emerging Vistas: The New Golden Age of Exploration.”

This symposium, scheduled from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., April 10, includes international leaders in field-based scientific research, as well as space and undersea exploration. The symposium will be held in the Biodesign Institute Auditorium, B Building, on the Tempe campus. It will be followed by a reception and official launch ceremony with ASU President Michael Crow at 4:30 p.m. in the Administration Building A courtyard.

An evening lecture – “Lunar Field Exploration: the Post-Shoemaker Era” – will be presented at 7:30 p.m., April 10, in Armstrong Hall by Harrison H. Schmitt, an Apollo astronaut and former U.S. senator. Schmitt will receive the Shoemaker Memorial Award, presented by BEYOND, ASU's Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science.

All events are free and open to the public. Seating is limited, and reservations are recommended. Registration and additional information are available at the Web site or by calling (480) 965-5081.