AIP Recognizes 2023 Andrew Gemant Award Winner Sidney Perkowitz for Contributions to Physics and Culture
WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2023 – AIP is pleased to announce Sidney Perkowitz as the winner of the 2023 Andrew Gemant Award, presented to those who have made significant contributions to the cultural, artistic, or humanistic dimension of physics.
Perkowitz was chosen by the award selection committee for his enduring commitment to bridge the physics community with the arts and humanities by using a variety of media—including books, essays, public lectures, and theatrical productions.
“Dr. Perkowitz exemplifies the values of this award through this impressive and diverse body of work,” said AIP CEO Michael Moloney. “Using art and literature to communicate science, he finds a common ground by which we can all better access and ponder the wonders of our world that physics reveals.”
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Perkowitz always knew he would be a scientist, but that did not stop him from also dreaming about being a writer. Now, he has authored or edited 11 books, written more than 200 articles and essays, and created four screenplays and scripts, as well as the text for four museum exhibits. He also engages with audiences directly through public lectures.
“I always wanted to be a scientist,” Perkowitz said. “I can’t give any origins for it — I’m not only the first scientist in my family, I’m among the first college graduates. But at the same time, my other choice was always to be a writer. Somehow, the two interests merged.”
Perkowitz started his prolific career as a physicist. He attended the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, now New York University Tandon School of Engineering, where he received a bachelor’s degree in physics, and earned his doctorate in solid state physics from the University of Pennsylvania.
While at Emory University, where he had become the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Physics, he achieved two major milestones in one year, publishing his 100th research paper and reaching his 50th birthday.
It was at this moment he realized he could do more to advocate for physics. Generous colleagues at Emory supported his efforts as he started writing books, lectures, essays, and exhibit texts that combine physics with art, literature, and history.
“One great advantage that comes from being raised in New York is that you’re in one of the art capitals of the world. As a high school and college student, just because of personal interest, I was exposed to a lot of art,” Perkowitz said. “My first book, ‘Empire of Light,’ was about the connection between science and art. It became apparent that once you think about science this way, it should be considered part of everything we count as culture: science, art, music, reading, and writing. These are human activities, and science is one of them.”
For many years, Perkowitz pursued science communication while still completing his duties as a physics professor and researcher. He believes that scientific outreach is crucial for maintaining a healthy society and a rich culture.
“Winning this award means a lot to me personally,” said Perkowitz. “If you look at the list of people also awarded this, I’m in admirable company. I’m really honored to be included in this group.
“On a higher level, I think about what this award means for physics. I think it is wonderful that AIP administers an award that is all about making physics and science more open and more popular to the whole world. If scientists don’t talk to society, society is not going to trust us or support us.”
About the Award
The Andrew Gemant Award recognizes the accomplishments of a person who has made significant contributions to the cultural, artistic, or humanistic dimension of physics and is given annually. The award is made possible by a bequest of Andrew Gemant to the American Institute of Physics.
The awardee receives a $5,000 cash award, designates an academic institution to receive a grant of $3,000 to further the public communication of physics, and is invited to deliver a public lecture in a suitable forum.
The mission of AIP (American Institute of Physics) is to advance, promote, and serve the physical sciences for the benefit of humanity. AIP is a federation that advances the success of our 10 Member Societies and an institute that operates as a center of excellence supporting the physical sciences enterprise. In its role as an institute, AIP uses policy analysis, social science, and historical research to promote future progress in the physical sciences. AIP is a 501(c)(3) membership corporation of scientific societies.
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