August 14, 2023 — The Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) has awarded its 2023 Carl Sagan Medal to Dr. Tracy Becker, a group leader in Southwest Research Institute’s Space Science Division.
The Sagan Medal recognizes outstanding scientific communication to the public by a planetary scientist. The award is named for the late astronomer Carl Sagan, known for exploring the grandeur of the universe in lectures, books and on television as host of the science series, “Cosmos.”
“My passion for communications and outreach was solidified when, as an undergraduate, I worked with middle school girls in a program focused on the role of women in science,” Becker said. “The multiweek program ended with an exclusive meeting with astronaut Dr. Sally Ride — a transformative experience for us all.”
The award acknowledges Becker’s innovative scientific outreach to underserved populations, including Spanish-speaking audiences and visually and hearing-impaired students. She participated in the American Geophysical Union’s inaugural “Voices for Science” program and successfully co-created and continues to organize Astronomy on Tap in San Antonio, which has allowed her to recruit, train and mentor colleagues in science communications. Other outreach opportunities she supports are Skype a Scientist, SwRI’s Young Engineers and Scientists, and “Letter to a Pre-Scientist” pen pal program.
Becker serves as a NASA Solar System Ambassador and has developed formal and informal education materials that incorporate the arts into the exploration of the universe for NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute. Over the years, Becker has organized many outreach events, served as a science consultant for the Encyclopedia Britannica for Kids, co-hosted a podcast called “Walkabout the Galaxy” and made a variety of media appearances, including on NPR’s Science Friday. For the last five years, she has led the development and dissemination of newsletters that showcase science and educational programs at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, where she began her career.
Becker joined the SwRI staff in 2016 as a postdoctoral researcher, specializing in remote observations of objects in our solar system, such as asteroids, moons and rings. She has received numerous awards and honors, including a NASA Group Achievement Award, which she received as part of the Cassini Ultraviolent Imaging Spectrograph (UVIS) team. Asteroid 6141 was named “tracybecker” in her honor.
The 2023 DPS prizes will be presented at the AAS DPS 55th Annual Meeting, which will be held jointly with the Europlanet Science Congress and hosted by SwRI in San Antonio and virtually October 1-6, 2023.