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Shakhashiri receives prestigious award for public education

May 3, 2013 By David Tenenbaum

Photo: Bassam Shakhashiri doing science demonstration

Bassam Shakhashiri performs during his annual “Once Upon a Christmas Cheery In the Lab of Shakhashiri” chemistry demonstration program in 2009.

Photo: Bryce Richter

Bassam Shakhashiri, a chemistry professor and William T. Evjue Distinguished Chair for the Wisconsin Idea at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has received the 2013 Carl Sagan Award for Public Understanding of Science.

Named for the astronomer whose enthusiasm and broad scientific knowledge helped inspire a generation to look at science as a fascinating discipline that makes a different in the real world, the Sagan Award was made by the Council of Scientific Society Presidents. The leaders of 60 societies with more than 1.4 million members comprise the council.

Shakhashiri is the immediate past president of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society. Long known for his standing-room-only Christmas chemistry demonstrations, his recent efforts include the American Chemical Society Climate Science Toolkit, which encourages scientists to communicate the objective scientific facts about climate change.

“In a democracy,” Shakhashiri says, “people should act wisely and avoid being bamboozled into making foolish decisions where matters of science and technology are concerned. Today the biggest challenge to science and society is to help sustain Earth and its people in the face of population growth, finite resources, malnutrition, spreading disease, deadly violence, war, climate change, and the denial of basic human rights, especially the right to benefit from scientific and technological progress.”

“Dr. Shakhashiri has long been a staunch advocate on the importance of science and scientific literacy for all people and all ages, and has a very distinguished career in promoting science and science education internationally,” said Patricia Simmons, chair-elect of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents. “He continues to serve as a dynamic advocate for policies that serve our society through advances in science and technology.”