UC Santa Cruz scientist honored for communicating physics

The American Institute of Physics has awarded its 2002 Andrew Gemant Award for communicating physics to Michael Riordan, adjunct professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Riordan is being honored for his teaching and writing, which explain physics concepts and history so that they are accessible to a wide audience.

A citation accompanying the award says, "Riordan's work has enhanced the public's appreciation of physics as a source of beneficial applications and as an integral part of our intellectual life."

The award includes $5,000 for Riordan and $3,000 for a graduate fellowship or lecture series. Riordan has chosen to provide a fellowship at UCSC to support a student in the Science Communication Program's science writing track, a one-year certificate program in which students learn how to communicate science to the general public.

Riordan teaches a course at UCSC, The Quantum Century, on the history of 20th-century physics. His articles and book reviews about physics have appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Washington Post, New Scientist, and Technology Review.

Riordan's first book, The Solar Home Book: Heating, Cooling, and Designing with the Sun, written with Bruce Anderson, was a best-seller. His other books include The Hunting of the Quark, which won the 1988 American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award, and Crystal Fire: The Invention of the Transistor and the Birth of the Information Age, written with Lillian Hoddeson. Crystal Fire won the 1999 Sally Hacker Prize of the Society for the History of Technology and was adapted for television by KTCA-TV, Minneapolis.

"It's important to communicate science to the general public because of its tremendous impact on modern society," Riordan said. "An informed public leads to better decisions about what science and technology research occurs."

The Gemant Award honors Andrew Gemant, a physicist who wrote six books, 16 volumes of short stories, and 280 scientific papers. Since 1987, the American Institute of Physics has awarded the prize annually to an individual who has linked physics to the arts and humanities. Past recipients include Stephen Hawking, Steven Weinberg, and Freeman Dyson.

"It's a great honor to be included in the company of these scientists, who have excelled in communicating physics and the role it plays in the wider web of human culture," Riordan said.

Riordan received a Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition to his position at UCSC, he is a lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science Program at Stanford University and leads a group researching and writing a history of the Superconducting Super Collider project. In 1999, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship to pursue research on this subject as a Senior Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.


Editor's note: Reporters may contact Michael Riordan at (831) 459-5687 or michael@slac.stanford.edu.