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Hubble Heritage AAS Education Award 2007


2007 Education Award Citation:

The American Astronomical Society hereby awards the 2007 Education Prize to Keith S. Noll for his creation of the Hubble Heritage Project of the Space Telescope Science Institute. For his innovative use of the power and beauty of Hubble Space Telescope images to effectively communicate the scope and value of our scientific enterprise. For his dedication and commitment to making astronomical data and science accessible to everyone, and to making the Hubble Space Telescope one of our community's most effective public education tools. And with commendation and appreciation to the entire Hubble Heritage Project team for the extraordinary reach and positive impact that the Hubble Heritage Project has had on the worldwide public understanding of science, astronomy, and the Universe.

Keith Noll's Acceptance Speech:

It is indeed an honor to accept this prize and I am humbled to join the list of very distinguished colleagues that have also been recognized in this way. It is particularly gratifying to me that the first recipient of this prize, when it was known as the Annenberg Foundation Prize, was Carl Sagan, one of the scientists whose books and public speaking stoked my own early interest in science and astronomy.

When I was finishing up my first postdoc I decided to take some time to write a popular article for the Planetary Report summarizing my discovery of some exotic gases in the atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn. I was surprised, to say the least, to get a letter of thanks from Carl himself who, apparently, was reviewing these articles personally. He encouraged me, as I think he did with many others, to write, to share, to communicate the excitement of astronomy. But those few words of encouragement stuck with me and were present in the back of my mind when I got the crazy idea of starting a small project to use Hubble as a tourist's camera and sharing these snapshots of our virtual travels with the public. It is very encouraging for me to imagine that our images may play a role in stirring a passion for science in others, the way Carl's books, images from space probes, and astronauts on the Moon inspired me.

Of course, it is impossible to do anything by one's self and I would like to take a moment to recognize just a few of the many people that have been instrumental in realizing the Hubble Heritage project. In fact, there are many more people who have contributed over the years than I can name, but I do want to call out a few individuals.

Anne Kinney and Howard Bond were the first two colleagues who I bounced this idea off of and, happily, both were enthusiastic collaborators from the start. Bob Williams believed in the idea enough to give us some of his Director's discretionary time, support that we have continued to enjoy under subsequent directors as well. Carol Christian bought in early on and helped disseminate our work through the News machinery within the Office of Public Outreach at STScI. Lisa Frattare has managed our day to day affairs for a decade and Jayanne English got our first web site up and running and tried to educate us in art theory.

Finally, we could not do without the artistic genius of Zolt Levay, the Ansel Adams of space photography. Any of you who have worked with Zolt are aware of his talent to turn an ordinary image into a spectacular one; we have benefitted greatly from his outstanding skill.

The AAS education prize is important because, we astronomers, as a community, are sometimes deeply ambivalent about the role of outreach in our field. We all repeat the mantra that outreach is important, but too often, it is considered to be less "serious" than the other activities that occupy our days and people who get too involved are viewed skeptically. It is important for us to remember, frequently, just how important this ongoing dialogue with the public is. I'll cite one example.

Just a few years ago when the then NASA administrator announced there would be no further servicing of HST, there was a spontaneous outpouring of grassroots support to save Hubble. I took the time to read some of the comments that people wrote in to the various online petitions. Almost every one mentioned the images from Hubble as something that inspired them and as something they wanted to save. One of the most commonly expressed ideas was that this telescope was "the People's Telescope", a view that, interestingly, crossed national boundaries. People felt ownership of Hubble because they felt that they were along for the ride, most often through seeing the images that we produce for outreach. And while Hubble is certainly an historically important instrument, it is also an icon that encapsulates a very broad and general support for astronomy that exists within the public that goes well beyond any one instrument or mission. There is an eagerness out there, a desire to see and to know that is, quite literally, the real life's blood of our profession.

We need to continue to speak to people who do not happen to be astronomers and to do so in as many channels as we can find. Images are a universal language, one that can be understood without a translator or without years of postgraduate education. They are truly democratic. I feel very fortunate to have the chance to play a role in creating these images with the Hubble Heritage project and I thank you again for this honor.