Gemini Observatory Astronomer Meg Schwamb to be Awarded Sagan Medal

June 1, 2017

Gemini Observatory Astronomer Meg Schwamb to be Awarded Sagan Medal

Gemini Observatory astronomer Meg Schwamb is this year’s recipient of the Carl Sagan Medal for Excellence in Public Communication in Planetary Science. The prize is awarded annually by the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Schwamb is being honored for the creation and development of new tools and venues to facilitate planetary science communication. She will receive the medal in October at the Division of Planetary Sciences’ annual meeting hosted in Provo, Utah.

Schwamb is being awarded the Sagan Medal in part for her involvement in engaging hundreds of thousands of people in planetary science research through online citizen science projects via the Zooniverse platform. These projects have included identifying planet transits in data from NASA’s Kepler mission (Planet Hunters), as well as mapping the locations and sizes of surface features on the Martian South Pole produced by carbon dioxide jets in images taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter ( Planet Four and Planet Four: Terrains). Schwamb has also been instrumental in conveying the science goals and results generated by these projects. Such online citizen science projects have a tangible impact on those who participate, with active volunteers often seeking out additional learning experiences beyond what is provided by a specific project.

Schwamb is also being honored in part for her efforts with Astronomy on Tap, a series of popular Astronomy talks in bars and pubs. The aim of Astronomy on Tap is to bring the latest planetary science and astronomy news and results directly to the public in a fun and relaxing environment. Schwamb helped create and organize the original Astronomy on Tap events in New York City that have now spawned events at satellite chapters in over 20 cities across the US and also abroad including Taipei, Montreal, and Portsmouth. In February, Gemini Observatory hosted their first Astronomy on Tap event in Hilo, Hawai‘i.

Finally, Schwamb is recognized for her role as co-creator of the recurring Twitter account Astrotweeps, which hosts a different astronomer or planetary scientist each week highlighting their research and life as a scientist.

Heidi Hammel, Vice President of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), and herself a winner of the Sagan Medal in 2002, notes, “it is an exceptional honor for Meg to be recognized so early in her career for her work in astronomy outreach.” Hammel continues, “social media and web-based citizen science provide new and innovative opportunities for scientists like Meg to communicate planetary science in compelling ways. AURA is proud to host an award-winning communicator like Meg on our staff.”

Henry Roe, Deputy Director of Gemini Observatory adds that this award is only the beginning, “Meg is going to continue to amaze and impress us with her creativity and passion for sharing her science with the public. This award is well-deserved and we are lucky to have Meg working with us at Gemini.”

Schwamb earned her Ph.D. in Planetary Science from the California Institute of Technology in 2011. She was a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at Yale University and an Academia Sinica postdoctoral fellow at the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Currently Schwamb is an assistant scientist at the Gemini Observatory at the Gemini North telescope in Hawai‘i where her research focuses on the small body populations residing in our Solar System and mining large datasets for Solar System science.


Peter Michaud

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Gemini Observatory