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Adam Frank receives Carl Sagan Medal for excellence in public communication

August 9, 2021
Adam Frank speaking at a symposium.Adam Frank, professor of physics and astronomy, speaks to an audience of Rochester community members at a 2019 Meliora Weekend academic symposium on the vital roles of creativity and discovery. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

On-air commentary, popular books, advising for Marvel—the award recognizes the Rochester astrophysicist’s ‘sustained efforts’ to make science broadly accessible.

Adam Frank, the Helen F. and Fred H. Gowen Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Rochester, has been awarded the 2021 Carl Sagan Medal for excellence in public communication in planetary science, presented by the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society. The award is named in honor of the late Cornell University astrophysicist, astronomer, and educator, who brought science to millions of people worldwide with his PBS series Cosmos and the 1980 book of the same name.

The DPS announcement on this year’s Carl Sagan Medal recipients recognizes Frank for “founding continuously sustained efforts and solid platforms from which science can be distributed to the public in an accessible form.”

Frank cofounded the National Public Radio’s 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog, contributes frequently to the New York Times, and created the Coursera course “Confronting the Big Questions: Highlights of Modern Astronomy.” The 13.7 blog, which Frank maintained for seven years and ended in April 2018, attracted more than 13 million yearly visits. Frank is a regular on-air commentator for NPR’s news show All Things Considered and contributes to other publications including The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and Scientific American.

“Carl Sagan was my hero and inspiration as a teenager, both as a scientist and science writer,” says Frank. “His books fueled my passion for astronomy and as I have gotten older I’ve found his imprint on so many of the topics I want to understand. I am deeply honored to be awarded a medal bearing his name.”

Says University President Sarah C. Mangelsdorf, “Adam Frank is a tremendous ambassador for research, science education, and the University of Rochester. The Sagan Medal is wonderful recognition of his important work to spread scientific knowledge to people of all ages, all over the world.”

An ‘evangelist of science’

A self-described “evangelist of science,” Frank regularly writes and speaks about subjects ranging from intelligent life forms in the universe to climate change, from high-energy-density physics to the importance of science and its funding. He recently appeared on NBC’s Today Show to discuss the science behind alien civilizations and UFOs, and authored a New York Times op-ed on the subject. He also appeared on CNN, providing live coverage with Anderson Cooper of Jeff Bezos’s inaugural space flight.

Frank has been awarded several prestigious honors for his work in communicating about science, including the American Physical Society’s 2020 Joseph A. Burton Forum Award for his “multi-channel promotion of public understanding of physics, of science in general, and of the relationship between science and society, using methods and venues that effectively engage and provoke discussion among policy makers, scientists, and the public regarding important issues.”

He has authored four popular books arguing for the beauty of science and against science denial. Frank’s most recent book, Light of the Stars (W.W. Norton, 2018), which NPR deemed “a valuable perspective on the most important problem of our time,” received starred reviews from both Booklist and Kirkus Reviews and was awarded the 2019 Phi Beta Kappa Award for Science. In it, he argues that human civilization can survive climate change by learning from the experiences of extraterrestrial civilizations.

Frank also served as science advisor for Marvel’s Doctor Strange and has appeared on numerous science documentaries such as Netflix’s Alien Worlds.

The 2021 Carl Sagan Medal will be presented to Frank at the organization’s 53rd annual meeting, which will take place virtually in October 2021.

Portrait of Adam Frank

Astrophysicist Adam Frank

A self-described “evangelist of science,” Frank regularly writes and speaks about subjects like intelligent life forms in the universe, high-energy-density physics, space exploration and missions, climate change, and more.

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