Foothill College Astronomy Instructor Named Honorary Member of Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
Honor Bestowed on Only 15 Living People at a Time
Foothill College Astronomy Instructor Andrew Fraknoi has been elected an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC). The prestigious honor is bestowed on only 15 living people at a time. The chairman of the astronomy department at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, Calif., Fraknoi appears to be the first community college educator selected for this honor in the 143-year history of the RASC.
"Since the Society has a rule that there can be no more than 15 honorary members living at any given time, I am tremendously honored to be included in a group that now includes Stephen Hawking and once included such noted astronomers as Harlow Shapley and Ejnar Hertzsprung," Fraknoi said. "I have devoted the largest portion of my professional life to helping students understand the universe better and helping other educators (from primary school to college level) convey the excitement and power of science more effectively. Since this kind of work often goes unsung, it is especially gratifying that the Society has chosen to honor me for my work in education." Founded in 1868, RASC is Canada's leading astronomy organization bringing together more than 4,200 professional scientists, enthusiastic amateurs and educators. Other current honorary members of the Society include British astrophysicist Prof. Stephen Hawking, Sir Patrick Moore, the prominent explainer of astronomy in England, Prof. P. J. E. Peebles, the award-winning cosmologist at Princeton University, Prof. Owen Gingerich, the noted historian of astronomy at Harvard University, and Julieta Fierro, one of Mexico's most distinguished astronomy popularizers. Over the course of the society's long history, a remarkable roster of leading astronomers outside Canada have been elected honorary members.
"Some of the astronomers I have most admired over the years have been honorary members of the RASC-Dr. Bart Bok, for example, whose work helped reveal characteristics of our Milky Way Galaxy, and whose public enthusiasm for astronomy was infectious or Allan Sandage, who continued and elucidated Hubble's work on the expanding universe and who served as an active member of the board of directors of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific when I was executive officer. To be thought of in the same category as these scientists is indeed a staggering honor," Fraknoi said.
Fraknoi teaches astronomy and physics for poets to more than 900 students each year at Foothill College. Named the California Professor of the Year in 2007 by the Carnegie Endowment for Higher Education, he has also received the Gemant Prize from the American Institute of Physics for a lifetime of contributions to physics popularization and connecting physics to the humanities. Before coming to Foothill, he served as the executive director of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (which is, in many ways, the counterpart of the RASC in the United States.) The International Astronomical Union has named Asteroid 4859 "Asteroid Fraknoi" to honor his contributions to the public understanding of astronomy.
Fraknoi's professional passion is sharing the excitement of astronomy with students, teachers and the public at large. He has recently begun offering a Facebook page that is called The Astro-Prof about astronomical developments. Access The Astro-Prof at www.facebook.com/Fraknoi. He founded Project ASTRO, a national program in which volunteer astronomers adopt a 4th-9th grade classroom and work with the teachers to bring a hands-on astronomy experience to the students. An offshoot, called Family ASTRO, provides games and activities that families can engage in to increase their understanding of astronomy. He is also the co-author of a leading college textbook in astronomy, and has published a children's book for Disney called Disney's Wonderful World of Space. The mammoth resource guide for teaching astronomy that he edited, called The Universe at Your Fingertips, has recently been updated and issued as a DVD-ROM by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Fraknoi was co-founder of the online journal Astronomy Education Review, which is now published by the American Astronomical Society.
Citing his work in education and public outreach, RASC National President Mary Lou Whitehorne nominated Fraknoi to be an honorary member of the society. "His work represents the global gold standard in astronomy education and outreach. He has inspired many to follow in his footsteps. He is nothing short of phenomenal-passionate, inspiring, dedicated and caring. I have used, and marvelled at, his work for over two decades. He has been my personal role model for over 20 years and is unquestionably deserving of honorary membership status."
Educated at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley, Fraknoi appears regularly on local and national radio programs explaining scientific ideas and discoveries in everyday language. He is the astronomer-in-residence on the syndicated Mark and Brian radio program and appears in San Francisco on KGO's Gil Gross Show and the Forum program with Michael Krasny on KQED. One of his interests is the scientific search for intelligent life in the universe, and he currently serves as the vice chairman of the board of trustees of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute. A resident of San Francisco, he is also a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences. A full biography and a sampling of his writings is available online at www.foothill.edu/ast/fraknoi.php.