Astronomical Society of the Pacific 2015 Award Recipients for Astronomy Research and Education

Press Release From: Astronomical Society of the Pacific
Posted: Friday, July 10, 2015

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), one of the most innovative and respected astronomy science education organizations in the U.S., is proud to announce the recipients of its 2015 awards for excellence in astronomy research and education. The awards will be formally presented at an ASP Awards Ceremony and Banquet on October 10, 2015, at Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, CA, as part of ASP’s Annual Meeting and Public Festival (Universe 2015).

The Maria and Eric Muhlmann Award for important research results based upon development of groundbreaking instruments and techniques is awarded to astronomer and instrumentation expert Dr. Stephen A. Shectman of the Carnegie Observatories. Dr. Shectman investigates the large-scale structure of the distribution of galaxies, searches for ancient stars, develops novel and creative astronomical instruments, and constructs large telescopes. He was the project scientist for the 6.5-meter Magellan telescopes and is largely responsible for their superb quality. Dr. Shectman served as the project scientist for the Giant Magellan Telescope until 2012 and is actively involved in designing instrumentation and providing consulting advice for the Giant Magellan Telescope planned for completion in 2025. Over the decades, Shectman has developed a variety of specialized instruments for larger and larger optical telescopes at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. He created photon-counting detectors for faint-object spectroscopy, copied by observatories throughout the world. He built the high-resolution Echelle spectrograph and the multiobject fiber spectrograph for Carnegie’s 2.5-meter (100-inch) du Pont telescope. He also built the high-resolution Echelle spectrograph for the 6.5-meter (21.3-feet) Magellan telescopes and he worked on the Magellan Echellette spectrograph and the Magellan Planet Finder Spectrograph. Instruments with optics designed by Shectman have produced the data for three quarters of the scientific publications from the Magellan Telescopes.

Dr. Shectman was awarded an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship in 1984 and elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1997. In 2005 he received the Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation from the American Astronomical Society, and in 2008 he received the Jackson-Gwilt Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society for his work on telescopes and instrumentation. Last year, Dr. Shectman was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

The Klumpke-Roberts Award for outstanding contributions to public understanding and appreciation of astronomy is awarded to Dr. Robert Nemiroff and Dr. Jerry Bonnell for their work on the Astronomy Picture of the Day. Dr. Robert Nemiroff is a Professor in the Physics department at Michigan Technological University. He is an active researcher, teaches undergraduate and graduate physics courses, and supervises graduate students. Dr. Jerry Bonnell is a research scientist with the University of Maryland Astronomy Department on contract to the Astrophysics Science Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. They are the co-creators and co-editors of Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). Since 1995, they have selected and explained one image of our universe every day. Their explanations include links to additional information, deepening the educational value of the site. Each day’s image and explanation are archived, forming what is one of the largest annotated archives of diverse astronomy images on the web. APOD’s home site is hosted by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and currently gets an average of 1 million hits per day. Its three major social media sites collectively have over 2 million followers. APOD is translated into 21 languages, including Arabic, Russian, Spanish, Indonesian, and Chinese, and has mirror sites in at least 23 countries.

The Richard H. Emmons Award for excellence in college astronomy teaching is awarded to Dr. Edward Prather. For the past 20 years Dr. Prather has dedicated himself to conducting research on best practices in teaching general education physics and astronomy at the college level. This work has led to development of a huge number of active learning instructional materials and new tools for assessment of student learning. Ed and his team use their courses at the University of Arizona (UA) as laboratories where they test and validate the effectiveness of these teaching and assessment materials, which they tirelessly disseminate through the Center for Astronomy Education Teaching Excellence workshops held around the country each year. These workshops have reached over 2500 astronomy educators and had a dramatic impact on the teaching of astronomy in the US and worldwide. Dr. Prather also serves as the Education Officer of the American Astronomical Society, and Executive Director of the Center for Astronomy Education. He has over 60 peer-reviewed publications and given hundreds of talks on issues of astronomy and physics teaching and learning. His teaching has been recognized at the university-level where, in 2007, he was awarded the UA Provost’s General Education Teaching Award, and in 2009 the UA College of Science Innovation in Teaching Award. At the national level, he has been awarded the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) David Halliday and Robert Resnick Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Physics Teaching.

The Thomas J. Brennan Award, for exceptional achievement related to the teaching of astronomy at the high school level, is awarded to Ms. Barbel Sepulveda. Ms. Sepulveda has been a science teacher at Lincoln High School in Stockton, California for 21 years. Her life-long love of astronomy led her to develop a physics-based astronomy class that is one of only a handful of astronomy classes in the state of California approved as a laboratory science. She has participated in numerous professional development opportunities to improve her astronomy teaching, including the National Optical Astronomy Observatory’s (NOAO) Teacher Leaders in Research Based Science Education Program where Ms. Sepulveda learned to bring authentic astronomy research into the classroom. Through this program, her science students investigated novae, sunspots, and conducted spectroscopic investigations on active galactic nuclei. Ms. Sepulveda was also one of only twelve teachers selected from NOAO’s cadre of trained teachers to participate in an observing program using the Spitzer Space Telescope. She encouraged students to take part in this project and a number of them contributed to projects involving young stars, active galactic nuclei, and tidal dwarf galaxies. Currently she is a participant in the Secondary Integration of Modeling in Math and Science (SIMMS) Project led by the San Joaquin County Office of Education, the University of the Pacific, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. She continues to encourage student research with the SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program and the Astronomy Research Seminar. As hard as she works to bring astronomy to her students, Ms. Sepulveda finds time to mentor new teachers so that her knowledge and skills can be passed to the next generation.

The Robert J. Trumpler Award for a recent PhD thesis considered unusually important to astronomy is awarded to Dr. H. Jabran Zahid. Dr. Zahid completed his PhD in June 2014 at the Institute for Astronomy (IFA) of the University of Hawai’i. Dr. Zahid’s thesis work measured the chemical evolution of galaxies using existing and new data from large extragalactic surveys, and compared that with the predictions of cosmological simulations. Highly motivated to understand his observational results from a theoretical perspective, he extended this work by developing the theoretical links between galactic chemical evolution, dust and star formation in galaxies. IFA Director Guenther Hassinger wrote “Jabran has the strongest proven track record of completing a PhD project from observation to publication than any graduating student in our history of approximately 200 PhDs awarded. Jabran embarked on his PhD thesis with extraordinary drive, innate ability, and independence, culminating in a total of nine first author refereed journal articles over a period of four years. These publications comprehensively span observations and theory, producing a series of seminal papers which have already collected over 250 citations.”

Alysia Caryl
ASP Communications Manager
+1 415-715-1406

More information about the ASP’s awards, including lists of past recipients:

Since its humble beginnings over 125 years ago, the ASP has evolved into one of the most recognized and well-respected nonprofit astronomy organizations in the country. Boasting diverse national programs endorsed by NASA and the NSF, publications, and awards designed to serve, empower, and recognize professional and amateur astronomers, as well as formal and informal educators, the ASP is unique in its mission to foster science literacy and share the excitement of exploration and discovery through astronomy. The ASP is headquartered in the Ingleside neighborhood of San Francisco, and is financially supported by donations, grants, corporate sponsorships, subscriptions, member dues, and retail sales.

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