Astronomer Fred Watson wins Communication Award

Professor Fred Watson, Astronomer-in-Charge at the Anglo-Australian Telescope near Coonabarabran, NSW, was awarded the prestigious David Allen Prize for communicating astronomy to the public on Saturday 19th July, during the 25th International Astronomical Union (IAU) General Assembly now taking place in Sydney.
Watson has been able to bridge the gap between the scientific world and the general public through his media appearances, such as on ABC Radio. He has a regular column in Australian Geographic and is currently writing a book on the history of the telescope.

One of Watson's most interesting contributions includes a musical piece, "Star Chant", composed by Ross Edwards, which premiered at the Adelaide Music Festival in 2002. Watson noted "Astronomy is the easiest of the sciences to get into peoples' minds -- it is very accessible. Astronomy has the potential to give us the answers to our origin."

 The judges noted Watson's ability to "engage the public in a wide-ranging and imaginative approach to astronomy" and "his ease of presentation and the vast knowledge of his subject."

Watson enjoys living in regional New South Wales. "I think the rural environment is one that really nurtures you, it brings out the best in people," said Watson. He is responsible for the scientific output and management of the Anglo-Australian and UK Schmidt Telescopes. His own scientific interests are in the motions of stars and galaxies, and in the development of new instrumentation for astronomy. He also helped pioneer the use of fibre optics during the 1980s, which has now become a major technique in astronomy around the world.

"I was thrilled to receive the award, it has added significance to me as I knew David Allen quite well," Watson said. "He was an extremely gifted person. He not only contributed to a wide area of science, but could also communicate it well to non-scientists."

The David Allen Prize was established in the memory of David Allen, also of the Anglo-Australian Observatory. Allen made major contributions to astronomy before his untimely death in 1994. He also had a strong commitment to communicating his science to the public. The aim of the prize is to foster public interest in astronomy by rewarding the best contribution, or series of contributions, in a calendar year. It can be awarded for work in any medium that portrays astronomical information to the general public in both an accessible and informative manner.

This is the second time the prize has been awarded. The first winner was Jonathan Nally in 2001, the then editor of Sky and Space magazine. The David Allen Prize is the newest in a series of prizes awarded by the Astronomical Society of Australia in recognition of excellence in astronomy in Australia.


Fred Watson
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