Robert Irion, director of Science Communication Program, wins journalism award

Robert Irion, director of the UCSC Science Communication Program. Photo by Jim MacKenzie.

Robert Irion, director of the Science Communication Program at UC Santa Cruz, has been awarded the 2010 David N. Schramm award from the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society. His winning article, entitled "Homing in on Black Holes," appeared as the cover story in the April 2008 issue of Smithsonian magazine.

The purpose of the Schramm Award is to recognize and stimulate distinguished writing on high-energy astrophysics in order to improve the general public's understanding and appreciation of this exciting field of research. This is the second time Irion has won the Schramm Award, having shared it with Science News reporter Ron Cowen in 2003.

In the Smithsonian story, Irion described efforts to study the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy with adaptive optics at the W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The project, led by astronomer Andrea Ghez of UCLA, uses a laser guide star to clarify views of young stars trapped in tight, fast orbits around the black hole, which may contain 4 million times the mass of our Sun.

The award consists of a prize of $1,500 and a plaque containing a citation. The publisher of the winning work will receive a certificate honoring the publication in which the work appeared. The award is sponsored by HEAD/AAS, which pays the winning author's personal travel expenses so that the award can be received in person at the next HEAD meeting, which will be held March 1 to 4, 2010, on the Big Island of Hawaii.

"I'm grateful to Andrea and her team for the nights they spent with me at Keck," Irion said. "Watching the laser system in action was a privilege, and it will be an honor to return to Hawaii to accept the award. I'm also indebted to my editor at Smithsonian, Laura Helmuth, for her guidance."

Helmuth and Irion are both graduates of the UCSC Science Communication Program.

David Schramm was a distinguished scientist who is widely regarded as the founder of the field of particle astrophysics, a discipline where cosmology and particle physics meet. High-energy astrophysics incorporates experimental and theoretical studies of high-energy photons and particles from the cosmos, including the disciplines of x-ray, gamma-ray and cosmic-ray astronomy.