American Chemical Society past president receives science communications award

WASHINGTON, May 3, 2013 — An organization of leaders of 60 scientific societies representing more than 1.4 million members has honored American Chemical Society (ACS) past president Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, Ph.D., for decades of efforts in promoting public understanding of science. The group, the Council of Scientific Society Presidents (CSSP), has named Shakhashiri recipient of its prestigious 2013 Sagan Award for Public Understanding of Science.

Shakhashiri, 2012 president of ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is the William T. Evjue Distinguished Chair for the Wisconsin Idea at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His most recent effort in fostering public understanding of science involves leading development of the American Chemical Society Climate Science Toolkit, available at That online resource encourages scientists to communicate the objective scientific facts about global climate change to the public.

“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, Ph.D., 2013 CSSP chair-elect. “He continues to serve as a dynamic advocate for policies that serve our society through advances in science and technology.”

CSSP consists of presidents, presidents-elect and recent past presidents of the nation’s main scientific societies. It is a leader in promoting science policy and science education and serves as a resource on major issues to the U.S. government, as well as news media, policy groups, and civic and professional organizations.

The award cites Shakhashiri for “Outstanding contributions and accomplishments as a recognized magnifier of the public’s understanding of science.” Established in 1993, it was named for the late Carl Sagan, Ph.D., who also was the first recipient. Sagan, an astronomer at Cornell University and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, became one of the world’s best-known scientists by explaining the wonders of science on the television series Cosmos, in books and by other means.

Shakhashiri is noted internationally for pioneering the use of demonstrations in the teaching of chemistry in classrooms, as well as to the public in museums, convention centers, shopping malls and retirement homes — and at his Science is Fun website. The Encyclopædia Britannica termed Shakhashiri the "dean of lecture demonstrators in America." He received the prestigious National Science Board’s Public Service Award in 2007 for pioneering new ways to encourage public understanding of science.

During his ACS presidency, Shakhashiri organized a task force that developed the ACS Climate Science Toolkit. The toolkit is a web-based tool to enhance understanding and communication of the science underpinning global climate change. The toolkit was developed for ACS’ more than 163,000 members and others.

In addition to leading development of the ACS Climate Science Toolkit, Shakhashiri organized an ACS presidential commission that examined the state of graduate education in chemistry. Its report, Advancing Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences, the most comprehensive on that topic in years, recommended changes in the education of tomorrow’s scientists to keep pace with the evolving global economic, social and political environment.

Past winners of the Sagan Award include Sylvia Earle, the National Geographic Society; Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times; Ken Weiss and Usha McFarling, the Los Angeles Times; Court-TV; Cheryl Heuton and Nick Falacci; NUMB3RS; Popular Science; Philip G. Zimbardo, PBS; Science Times, The New York Times; John Noble Wilford, The New York Times; John Rennie, Scientific America; Richard Harris, NPR; Ira Flatow, NPR; Alan Alda, John Angier and Graham Chedd, Frontiers; Bill Nye, The Science Guy, TV program; NOVA-TV and Paula Apsell; the National Geographic Society and Magazine: Gilbert Grosvenor and William Allen; Edward Wilson, Curator, the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University; and Carl Sagan, Cornell University.

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