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Heidi Hammel to be awarded DPS Sagan Medal

Press Release From: American Astronomical Society
Posted: Monday, September 30, 2002

Dr. Heidi B. Hammel is this year's recipient of the Carl Sagan Medal. The Sagan Medal is awarded by the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS), the largest division of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). It is awarded to an active planetary scientist whose efforts have significantly contributed to a public understanding of, and enthusiasm for, planetary science.

Hammel will receive the Sagan Medal and associated cash award at special ceremonies on Wednesday afternoon, October 9, 2002, in the Ballroom of the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Center in Birmingham, Alabama, the site of this year's DPS Meeting. She will then address the DPS membership, the first Sagan Medal winner to be afforded this opportunity; the title of her lecture is, "Education and Public Outreach Opportunities for Ordinary Planetary Scientists." Sagan Medal winners are also encouraged to address a public audience on the topic of planetary science. Hammel has arranged to deliver that lecture in conjunction with the semi-annual meeting of the AAS in January 2003 in Seattle, Washington.

Hammel received her undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1982 and her PhD in physics and astronomy from the University of Hawaii in 1988. After a postdoctoral position at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, California), she returned to MIT, where she spent nearly nine years as a Principal Research Scientist in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. She is presently a senior research scientist with Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Hammel's research focuses primarily on the giant outer planets and their satellites. She is an acknowledged expert about the planet Neptune, and was a member of the Imaging Science Team for the Voyager 2 encounter with that planet in 1989. She has imaged Neptune and Uranus with the Hubble Space Telescope, and is part of a group working to develop the Next Generation Space Telescope for NASA.

In addition to her scientific research, which earned her the DPS Urey Prize in 1996, Dr. Hammel has the ability to communicate scientific ideas to the public in a clear language with infectious enthusiasm, providing the public with a personal look at the excitement of planetary science. She articulately and unselfishly portrays her work and the work of others to the public and is gifted with a combination of intelligence, enthusiasm, and belief in the value of public education, something often rare among scientists.

Hammel chooses education and public outreach projects that parallel her research in order to get the most out of both experiences. One recent endeavor was a program called "Live from the Hubble Space Telescope" which directly involved school children in making planetary obervations with the orbiting observatory. "Getting science out of the ivory tower and into the public realm is one of the most important and exciting things a scientist can do," said Hammel. "I try to reach out to kids, especially girls, who may not have realized that science and engineering are careers they might pursue."

Dr. Hammel was made a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science earlier this year. She has been cited previously for her work in public outreach, winning the Astronomical Society of the Pacific's 1995 Klumpke-Roberts Award for public understanding and appreciation of astronomy; the 1996 Spirit of American Women National Award for encouraging young women to follow non-traditional career paths; and the Exploratorium's 1998 Public Understanding of Science Award.

Although Dr Hammel will not be giving a public lecture in Birmingham, the local organizing committee has arranged for a very interesting public lecture Monday evening, October 7, at 7 PM in the Ballroom of the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Center. The lecture, entitled "Adventures in Outerspace: Galileo and Cassini-Huygens," will be given jointly by Dr. Torrence Johnson, Galileo Project Scientists, and Dr. Dennis Matson, Cassini Project Scientist. It will feature results from the nearly completed Galileo Mission to Jupiter and planned observations by the Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn and Titan, which goes into orbit around Saturn in July 2004. The lecture is free and the public is welcome.

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