The American Association of Physics Teachers has given its 2015 Klopsteg Memorial Lecture Award to Vanderbilt’s David A. Weintraub, professor of astronomy. The award recognizes educators who have made notable and creative contributions to the teaching of physics. The lecture and award will be presented during the AAPT Summer Meeting in College Park, Maryland.
“I am honored to receive this award, especially as it’s bestowed by an organization of physics teachers who understands the importance of conveying the joy of doing science to the next generation of scientists,” Weintraub said. “While I consider the work I do in generating new knowledge as an astronomer important, so too is my work in communicating the importance and the meaning of scientific discoveries to the public. The latter work is critical for the future of science, as this activity is how the excitement of scientific discovery stimulates the birth of the next generation of scientists and engineers.”
For the past nine years, Weintraub has served as director of the Communication of Science and Technology program at Vanderbilt. He leads an extremely successful undergraduate program designed to teach students to present scientific ideas in an accessible way to the general public.
Weintraub’s own research area is the study of debris disks around stars, but he also has a deep interest in the impact of science on human society. He has taught an honors seminar on “The Tangled Web of Astronomy and Religion,” covering such topics as cosmology and the trial of Galileo. He regularly teaches a related course, “Theories of the Universe,” which explores the overlap between astronomy, religion and philosophy throughout the ages. Another illustration of his wide-ranging intellectual interests is his seminar on “Black Holes and Science Fiction.”
He is the author of three popular astronomy books: Is Pluto a Planet? (Princeton University Press, 2006), How Old is the Universe? (Princeton University Press, 2011) and Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How Will We Deal With It? (Springer Praxis Books, 2014). All three successfully convey the excitement of astronomy to the general public. He has presented numerous public lectures in connection with these books.
Weintraub earned his B.S. at Yale and both his M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of California–Los Angeles. He was a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Florida before joining the astronomy faculty at Vanderbilt in 1991.
About the award
Established in 1990, the Klopsteg Memorial Lecture Award is given to a notable physicist in memory of Paul Klopsteg. The award’s recipient is asked to make a major presentation suitable for non-specialists at an AAPT Summer Meeting on a topic of current significance. Past winners include Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium, in 2007; and Vanderbilt’s Robert Scherrer, professor of physics, in 2010.