Related Professional Activities
I have maintained a strong interest in science education at all levels, and had extensive teaching experience-from a university level to lectures for the general public. While still a student I worked with the Ontario Science Center, giving public demonstrations, and training staff there. At M.I.T. I ran a live phone-in T.V. program on physics for undergraduates, and was nominated for a teaching award for instruction during a semester in which I received the highest teaching evaluation score in the undergraduate course guide. During that time I also taught a one-semester science course in the Cambridge public school system. At Yale, I taught courses ranging from a general physics course for non-scientists, to advanced graduate courses in particle physics, and in cosmology. I also served for two years on the Yale Course of Study committee, where I played a major role in revising the science requirements for undergraduates. In 1991 I was named a Sigma Xi National Lecturer, and visited campuses and industries around the country for two years giving public lectures. I also directed a 3-day seminar for the Association of Yale Alumni entitled The Legacy of Newton. In 2006 I was named a Phi Beta Kappa National Visiting Scholar, to be lecturing to Phi Beta Kappa Chapters around the country.
At CWRU I sponsored and/or organized outreach programs as well as lecturing to high school and public school students and teachers throughout Northeast Ohio, including visiting schools to lecture or talk to students about science, and participated in programs such as the Young Scholars Program, Science Olympiad, and served on the Executive Committee of the Board or Trustees of the Cleveland School for the Arts, where I initiated a science committee that still exists to enrich the science program at the school. In the physics department itself I supervised the overhauling of the undergraduate and graduate physics curricula, the establishment of new undergraduate laboratories, the creation of six new undergraduate major tracks, and one new graduate degree program, and the creation of a new public lecture series. I also brought together a group of faculty from science and the humanities to help establish the form the new Seminar Approach to General Education curriculum at Case.
I was involved in the preparation of a national curriculum on cosmology for high school teachers sponsored by the American Association of Physics Teachers, and presented a series of workshops for teachers based on a teaching manual I wrote. In 1999 I served as an outside adviser to MIT for their new program aimed at introducing writing and communication aspects across their science curriculum. I have also given presentations on teaching science at the National Teacher Training Institute, and at regional teachers meetings, and at the APS-AAPT national meeting in Columbus. I presented the opening lecture at the American Association of Physics Teachers meeting in San Antonio in 1999, and a Shell Lecture at the 2001 National Association of Science Teachers Conference in St. Louis.
In 2004, I was awarded the Oersted Medal by the AAPT, its highest recognition for teaching. I have also served on the executive committee of the board of trustees of the Great Lakes Science Center, the Board of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and the Board of the new Science Fiction Experience Museum in Seattle.
As various groups attempted to impede the teaching of evolution in public schools, I quickly took a leadership role in combating this effort. I helped lead the effort in Ohio during the period 2002-2006 to fight back an effort to alter the science standards and curricula in the public schools and spoke out in states such as Kansas and Colorado on this issue, as well as advising lawyers in Dover Pennsylvania during the trial there. In March 2002 I testified in a public presentation before the Ohio Board of Education on Science Standards for High School Science Classes in Ohio, beginning what became a national effort to defend the teaching of Evolution in high schools. In 2006 I created the organization Help Ohio Public Education, which recruited pro-science candidates for State School Board elections. All of our candidates were successfully elected.
Science, Society and Public Policy
My activism on issues of science and society began when I was still a student, when I served as an organizer and lecturer in California for the Union of Concerned Scientists Convocation against Nuclear War in 1981, and Regional Coordinator for the International Physicists Petition for a Nuclear Freeze. In 1987-88 I was a regional co-ordinator for the FAS Congressional Exchange Program, and then began writing and lecturing on issues associated with National Missile Defense. I served on the American Physical Society Panel on Public Affairs for two years. In February 2004, I was among a group of 62 prominent scientists that wrote a public statement regarding Scientific Integrity in Washington. I was on the Board of Scientists and Engineers for America, and the Board of Ohio Citizens for Science, and was Chair of the American Physical Society Forum on Physics and Society, Chair of the Physics Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2008 I co-founded ScienceDebate2008, which has worked with and coordinated over 100 major science organizations to call for a Presidential Debate on issues of Science and Technology Policy, and following that, served on Barack Obama’s Science Policy committee during the Presidential Campaign. In 2009 I was named Co-Chair of the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors and began embarking on a new set of activities designed to reduce the threat of nuclear war. During my tenure as Co-Chair, and then as Chair from 2015- 2018, the Bulletin has broadened its areas of interest, to include global climate change, biotechnology and other emerging technologies, and also AI and cyberterrorism.
I regularly write on science and policy issues for newspapers and magazines, including such newspapers the New York Times, L.A. Times, the International New York Times, The Wall St. Journal, The Washington Post, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, as well as magazines including The New Yorker, Scientific American, Wired, Nautilus, New Scientist, Discover, Seed, and TV Guide. I have been a commentator for both Public Radio International, and National Public Radio, with commentaries airing on both Marketplace, and Morning Edition. I have also appeared on national television news programs, including CNN, PBS, ABC News, and Fox News, The Colbert Report, and Real Time With Bill Maher.
Popular Science Books and Films
The popular science book I wrote in 1989 was named an Astronomy Book of the Year by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (1990) and was been translated into 4 languages. My next book appeared in 1993, was named among the “best books of the year” by Library Journal, and was translated in 12 languages. My next book, The Physics of Star Trek became an international bestseller, appeared simultaneously in audio tape format in 1995, and was translated into twenty foreign languages, and sold over 250,000 copies in the US alone. My sixth book. Atom, appeared in April of 2001 and was awarded the American Institute of Physics Science Writing award. My book Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science, was named Book of the year 2011 by Physics World. My next book, A Universe from Nothing was an immediate New York Times bestseller, and has been translated into 25 languages. My most recent book The Greatest Story Ever Told... So Far: Why Are We Here? just appeared, in March of 2017. Most recently I have been involved in producing appearing in film feature documentaries and theatrical films, including a film that followed myself and Richard Dawkins around the world, entitled The Unbelievers, the television series, How the Universe Works, and most recently a film about the Voyager spacecraft entitled The Farthest.
Educational and Administrative Leadership
In 1993, I moved to Case Western Reserve University to become Chairman of the Physics Department in order to oversee a major revitalization of the department and its facilities, and also to help in launching the new College of Arts and Sciences. During the twelve years of my Chairmanship, we completed a six million dollar renovation of the Physics research and teaching facilities, hired nine outstanding new faculty, created a new nationally recognized research group in particle astrophysics with a strong theoretical group and new experimental programs ranging from dark matter detection to high energy gamma ray astrophysics, overhauled the undergraduate and graduate curricula, tripled the size of the sophomore class of physics majors the make it the largest group per capita of any leading research university in the country), built and outfitted a new set of introductory physics laboratories which serviced over 600 undergraduates per year, created a new Engineering Physics major, a new Bachelor of Arts in Physics degree, a new BS in Mathematics and Physics, a new BS Physics degree with a concentration in Biophysics, and created two new prominent public lecture series. We also developed an exciting new Masters Program in Physics Entrepreneurship, which was used by the American Physical Society as a new model for graduate education in physics at a national level. I raised 1.5 Million dollars to initiate this program. Finally we created a new Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University, in coordination with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The inaugural event sponsored by CERCA, and funded in part by the Kavli Foundation, was a conference on the Future of Cosmology, the first such conference sponsored by Kavli, creating a new conference series for them.
During my tenure as chair, the departmental college-funded operating budget increased by $300,000 to over $1 million/yr, and we obtained in excess of 5 million dollars in sponsored research funds per year, and I raised over $8 million in privately funded endowments from outside donors. The sponsored external research funding for the department tripled during my tenure as chair. According to a national ranking of Ph. D. programs in Physics when I left, the department ranked 16th in the country, up from 108th before I became Chair.
At the College level I was heavily involved in various College and University projects, including fundraising, planning, and curricular issues. I took a leadership role in visiting donors, lecturing to alumni groups, and preparing proposals for foundation support. I served on the President’s committee overseeing a year-long self-study in 1995 associated with the successful re-accreditation of CWRU, focusing on different areas of University activity, including electronic learning, undergraduate education, research, and continuing education. I played a key role in helping shape the form of a new Seminar Approach to General Education that was instituted in 2005 for all undergraduates at CWRU. During the period 2005-7, I took a variety of different roles at the University, including helping to plan for the new West Quad Research Complex for the Medical School, Chairing an external Strategic Planning committee for the Dept. of Chemistry, and Chairing the Advisory Committee on Research Computing for the VP for Information Technology Services, and served on the University Stakeholders committee, appointed by the President to raise the University’s profile locally and nationally.
Based on my interests in expanding the research profile of the University, I was asked to Chair a President’s Commission on Graduate Education and Research, which examined ways to alter the University administrative structure and fundraising priorities in order to enhance the research and graduate education at CWRU. This commission produced a report in April of 2004, and on that basis a new Research Council has been established, of which I was a member while at CWRU.
In 2008, I moved to Arizona State University to direct a new University-wide Origins Project at ASU which became a nationally recognized center for sponsored meetings, education, and outreach on issues associated with Origins, including the origins of the universe, planetary origins, the origin of life, human origins, and origins of cognition, etc. The project began with a major Origins Symposium held April 3-6, 2009, attended by over 80 major scientists and scholars from a host of fields around the world and 8 Nobel Laureates. Our inaugural public event involved 12 hours of lectures and panels and was attended by over 6000 members of the public, as well as being broadcast live on the web (see www.origins.asu.edu). One of the highlights involved an afternoon forum for students from 20 inner city high schools.
The Origins Project achieved international prominence, hosting over 20 workshops on forefront issues with major scientists and scholars in a variety of fields, leading to white papers on Climate Change, a new research program in human origins, and a new concerted program on the implications of research in Artificial Intelligence. We cosponsored events with groups ranging from the National Institutes of Health to the Sydney Opera House. Our public events regularly attracted up to 3000 members of the public, and up to 2,000,000 people viewed them online afterwards. Audience members flew in from Japan, South America, and Canada, as well as across the country to listen to scholarly panels on issues ranging from the Origins of Morality, to the Nature of Gravity as well as dialogues with leading public intellectuals and including Noam Chomsky, Peter Singer, Alan Alda, Jeffrey Sachs, Frank Wilczek, and Johnny Depp. We sponsored events that merged science and popular culture, including screening of major films by directors such as Werner Herzog, commissioning a dance program by Liz Lehrman entitled A Matter of Origins, and a performance of Holst’s The Planets with the University Orchestra, followed by a public lecture by Stephen Hawking.
In addition to its scientific and outreach missions, the Origins Project also developed an educational portal, in which we compiled and curated material from our workshops in an online format accessible by teachers, students and members of the general public. We established three different undergraduate research scholarships and raised funds to establish the largest postdoctoral prize in the world, awarded annually to a postdoctoral researcher from any field of origins from around the world who traveled to the University to present a series of lectures.
In order to develop and support the program, I raised over 3 million dollars in external funding as well as controlling a similar amount in University funding, with which I hired and managed a staff of seven people including an Executive Director, Associate Director, program manager, office manager, web designer, graphic designer and office assistant, as well as numerous interns and volunteers. We established an external advisory committee that included major scientists, business leaders and thought leaders from around the world, including 5 Nobel Laureates, the head of research at Microsoft, and the past president of the Royal Society.
The program was also successful in bringing major figures to the University. Besides Visiting Origins Professors, who have included Ian McEwan, Peter Singer, Richard Dawkins, among others, two of our past visiting professors, Sidney Altman and Frank Wilczek, both Nobel Laureates, joined the University as faculty.
In addition to my leadership of the Origins Project, I joined the University with a mandate to build a new Cosmology Initiative at the University. As part of this initiative, we hired 7 new faculty, and had a flourishing program that has brought in over 2 million/yr in external research funding to the University from the DOE, NSF, and NASA, among other agencies, as well as training over a dozen postdocs and a larger number of graduate students.
Foundation and Podcast: 2019-present
In 2019, I created and assumed the Presidency of the Origins Project Foundation, which is now a tax-exempt organization with a distinguished board of external advisors including six Nobel Laureates, writers, directors, scholars, and public intellectuals. The Foundation brings people from diverse disciplines together to interact with the public to explore foundational questions that will illuminate the key challenges of the 21st century. In the process it spans the current divide between science and culture. Two of its major activities include arranging travel adventures for members of the public to explore Origins-related destinations, along with some of the world’s most renowned scholars and intellectuals who present lectures on their work, as well as arranging provocative and illuminating public events, recorded in various locations around the world, and later shown on the web. Initial travel excursions have included the Mekong Delta, with speakers Richard Dawkins and Richard Somerville, and Iceland and Greenland with lecturers Ian McEwan and Ray Dolan.
At the same time I created the Origins Project LLC, a separate company that produces The Origins Podcast with Lawrence Krauss. This unique video podcast involves in depth discussions with some of the most interesting people in the world, spanning all areas of human inquiry and artistic endeavor. Initial dialogues included actor and comedian Ricky Gervais and scholar and public intellectual Noam Chomsky. Additional dialogues have included individuals from Brian May, musician and guitarist for Queen, to psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, cosmologist Lord Martin Rees and Shakespearean scholar Stephen Greenblatt.
While in my late teens and early 20’s I pursued a research interest in Canadian History, including devoting one full year doing primary research at the Public Archives of Canada, Ontario, and a variety of private collections. During that time I was granted access to a variety of restricted materials from the files of the Attorney General of Ontario, to be used for a book on the social history of the depression in Canada. Also during this period I helped edit a book on the Hutterites in Canada.
Acting and Producing
Beginning in 2013, I began a new set of activities, involving producing, and sometimes appearing, in feature films, both documentary, and fiction. These have included, The Unbelievers, in which I appeared as well as producing, Salt and Fire, and Lo and Behold, in which I appeared, both directed by Werner Herzog, The Farthest, in which I appeared, and which won an Emmy for best Documentary Film, Intersect, as executive producer, in production in 2018, Beautiful Dark, as executive producer, in pre-production, and Vestige, in which I appear, in pre-production