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Seminar 9

“Future of Planet Earth” Participant Biography

Paris, France | June 3–5, 2008

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Eric J. Chaisson

Dr. Eric J. Chaisson is Director of the H. Dudley Wright Center for Innovative Science Education at Tufts University, where he is also Research Professor of physics and astronomy and Research Professor of education. He is also an Associate of the Harvard College Observatory, where he teaches introductory astrophysics, and Affiliate-director of the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium, based at MIT.

Trained initially in atomic physics, Chaisson obtained his doctorate in astrophysics from Harvard University in 1972. Before assuming his current position, he spent a decade as a member of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. During his tenure as Associate Professor at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Chaisson’s research concentrated largely on the radio astronomical study of interstellar gas clouds. This work won him fellowships from the National Academy of Sciences and the Sloan Foundation, as well as Harvard’s Bok Prize for original contributions to astrophysics and Harvard’s Smith-Weld Prize for literary merit. He has also held research and teaching positions at MIT and Wellesley College and, before joining Tufts, was a scientist on the senior staff and Director of educational programs at the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University. He has more than 100 publications to his credit, most of them in the professional journals.

Chaisson’s major research interests are currently twofold: His scientific research focuses on an interdisciplinary, thermodynamic study of physical and biological phenomena, thereby searching for the origin, evolution, and unification of galaxies, stars, planets, and life forms in the universe. His educational research engages experienced teachers and computer animators to discover better methods, technological aids, and novel curricula to enthuse teachers and instruct students in all aspects of natural science. He currently teaches an undergraduate course at Harvard University on the subject of cosmic evolution, which combines both of these research and educational goals.

In order to share the essence of his research and teaching with a wide audience, Chaisson has written several books, including Cosmic Dawn, which won several literary awards such as the Phi Beta Kappa Prize, the American Institute of Physics Award, and a National Book Award Nomination for distinguished science writing. His other books include two works on relativity, a textbook on cosmic evolution, and a volume (co-authored with George Field) outlining the scientific rationale for the United States’ national space policy. Another book, The Hubble Wars, also won the American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award, and his popular textbook, Astronomy Today (co-authored with Steve McMillan), is the most widely used college astronomy textbook in the nation. His most current books, Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature, and Epic of Evolution: Seven Ages of the Cosmos, were published by Harvard and Columbia University Presses, respectively. The latter won the Walter P. Kistler Book Award for 2007.

Chaisson holds membership in numerous American and international scientific organizations, several honor societies, and a host of academic, public, and federal advisory committees.