Strogatz wins AAAS public engagement award

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Steve Strogatz

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has named Steven Strogatz, the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics, the recipient of the 2013 AAAS Public Engagement with Science Award for his “exceptional commitment to and passion for conveying the beauty and importance of mathematics to the general public.”

Strogatz has contributed widely to the popularization and public understanding of mathematics through newspaper articles, books, radio and television appearances, documentaries and public lectures.

In nominating Strogatz for the award, Alan Zehnder, Cornell professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, noted the range of interests in Strogatz’s many radio interviews with NPR. “Known for his clarity, humor and exceptional teaching ability, he has introduced the public to such issues as the statistical likelihood of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, the importance of horizontal gene transfer in the evolution of life, and the significance of chaos in Tom Stoppard’s play “Arcadia,” Zehnder said.

Strogatz wrote a weekly series of 15 essays for the New York Times on elements of mathematics, including negative numbers, calculus and group theory, and the mysteries of infinity. He recently received the Euler Book Prize for “The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity,” which grew out of his New York Times column.

In 2003, Strogatz published his first book for the general public, “Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order,” about the mathematics of synchronization and its applications in science and everyday life. His second book for the general public, “The Calculus of Friendship,” was published in 2009, and told the story of his 30-year correspondence and friendship with Don Joffray, his high school calculus teacher.

Strogatz appeared in “The Math Life” on PBS in 2002 and “How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer” (also known as “Connected: The Power of Six Degrees”), which aired in the U.S. and the United Kingdom in 2008 and 2009. He has also filmed a series of 24 lectures on chaos for the Teaching Company’s Great Courses series.

Strogatz’s research interests include nonlinear dynamics in physics and biology, coupled oscillators, complex systems and networks. In 2009 he was elected a fellow of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics “for investigations of small-world networks and coupled oscillators and for outstanding science communication.” In 2007, he received the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics Communications Award, a lifetime achievement award presented jointly by the four major American mathematical societies.

The AAAS Public Engagement with Science Award, established in 1987, recognizes scientists and engineers who make outstanding contributions to the popularization of science. In 1995, Cornell astronomer Carl Sagan won the same award. Strogatz will receive it during the AAAS annual meeting Feb. 14 in Chicago.

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