Professor wins Carl Sagan Award for the Public Appreciation of Science

Bill Hammack, known as "The Engineer Guy," produces media to explain science
Bill Hammack
Bill Hammack's media work has been listened to or viewed more than 50 million times. (Photo by L. Brian Stauffer.)

Chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Bill Hammack, known around the world as “The Engineer Guy,” has been chosen to receive the Carl Sagan Award for the Public Appreciation of Science.

The award, given annually by the Council of Scientific Society Presidents (CSSP), recognizes outstanding achievement in improving the public understanding and appreciation of science. Previous recipients include Steven Pinker, Thomas Friedman, and Bill Nye. The first recipient was astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan.

"I am thrilled and honored to receive this award because Carl Sagan and his television series ‘Cosmos’ from 1980 was a model for me in how to communicate science to the public," Hammack said. Hammack was recognized on May 4 at an award presentation and reception held in Washington, DC.

The Council of Scientific Society Presidents represents the breadth of science and engineering research disciplines through its member societies and federations. The societies are represented by their presidents, presidents-elect, and recent past presidents of leading scientific societies and federations whose combined membership is over one million.

Bill Hammack is the William H. and Janet G. Lycan Professor at the University of Illinois. As an engineer, his mission over the last 20 years has been to inform the public about engineering and science. His media work explaining fundamental science and its application through engineering—from his work in public radio to his use of internet-delivered video—has been listened to or viewed more than 50 million times. In clear, accessible, but technically accurate language, he has excited the next generation of engineers and scientists, and aided the public in appreciating the impact of science and engineering in our society and economy.

Hammack earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering at Michigan Technological University and master's and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois. He taught at Carnegie Mellon for a decade before returning, in 1999, to Illinois, where he now teaches in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. He lives in Urbana, Illinois, with his wife and two sons.

For his work he has received numerous national awards from scientific, engineering, and journalistic societies, including the American Chemical Society’s Grady-Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry to the Public and the American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award.

His radio work has also been recognized by his engineering peers as he's received the American Institute of Chemical Engineer’s Service to Society Award, the American Society of Mechanical Engineer’s Edwin F. Church Medal, the American Society for Engineering Education’s President’s Award, and the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineer’s Award for Distinguished Literary Contributions Furthering the Public Understanding of the Profession.

His radio work has been recognized by his journalistic peers via the Science-in-Society Award from the National Association of Science Writers and the Silver Reel for National News and Commentary from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Additionally he has been elected a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Society for the Advancement of Science.

CSSP is committed to advancing leadership in science and technology and to establishing policies and programs that will ensure a bright future for 21st century science. Founded in 1973, the society has served as a center for national science leadership development, a strong voice in support of science in the nation’s capital, and the premier forum for national science policy development through open, substantive exchanges on current issues encompassing the full spectrum of science, engineering, and mathematics.

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Christine Des Garennes, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering