Geology & Geophysics AGU News

Holly Gilbert Receives 2015 Athelstan Spilhaus Award

Holly Gilbert received the Athelstan Spilhaus Award at the 2015 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 16 December 2015 in San Francisco, Calif. The award honors an individual "for their enhancement of the public engagement with Earth and space sciences."



Holly Gilbert
Holly Gilbert

The Athelstan Spilhaus Award recognizes exceptional skill, dedication, and success in informing the public of the value, beauty, and excitement of Earth and space science research. Dr. Holly Gilbert embodies these virtues like few others.

Holly has made extraordinary contributions to enhancing the public’s understanding of heliophysics and space science while also becoming an effective leader in a major research organization. Her highly successful research career has provided her with the deep scientific understanding that conveys authenticity and genuine excitement, and her exceptional communication talent provides her with a unique skill set to interact with the public.

I had the pleasure of experiencing Holly’s capabilities starting in 2008, when she joined the Goddard Space Flight Center to dedicate herself not only to managing all of the outreach activities of her organization but also to finding innovative ways to show to the public the fascination and importance of heliophysics science. With characteristic energy and dedication, she translates scientific discoveries into captivating information for the public. Her excellence in building relationships between researcher and outreach communities is recognized widely.

Holly understood early on the tremendous outreach potential inherent in public media. Unlike anybody I have ever met, she took action—with tremendous success. She appeared and continues to appear on numerous radio and television shows, and she played key roles in Discovery Channel (2012 Apocalypse), History Channel (The Universe), PBS (Earth from Space), and Weather Channel (Space Tornadoes) documentaries. It is a mark of her standing with the media that she was invited to join a brainstorming session with Morgan Freeman for his Science Channel series Through the Wormhole, where she helped formulate ideas for topics at its inception.

Holly also routinely provides lectures for high-profile events like keynotes at two recent NASA at the Smithsonian events, which were attended by national policy makers, and talks at schools and other educational venues. For example, she taught an astronomy course at a community college in Houston, Texas, and she was the guest lecturer at the St. George Observatory (Schriever, La.), where a solar telescope was dedicated in her name to recognize her commitment to teaching the public. Holly receives hundreds of emails from people she has touched personally, many from parents complimenting her ability to inspire their children. Space physics and aeronomy research owes much of its public recognition to her.

Dr. Holly Gilbert is a most deserving recipient of AGU’s 2015 Athelstan Spilhaus Award.

—Michael Hesse, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.



I am deeply honored to be recognized with this award and feel extremely lucky for so many opportunities to interact with the public, allowing me to share my excitement about heliophysics science. Communicating and promoting science in the context of sharing independent research results at conferences is part of being a scientist. I’ve been privileged with opportunities to extend my communication skills to reach large, diverse groups of people, whether in classrooms, on cable TV, or on cruise ships. The most rewarding part of doing this type of outreach is seeing children get inspired as I’m talking to them. Exploring the domain of the Sun has awed us with scientific complexity and beauty. Sharing our enthusiasm and knowledge with the general public provides them with a glimpse of that fundamental beauty, benefiting scientists and society alike.

I’d like to thank Michael Hesse for his continued support and recognition of the importance of communicating science to the public. I’ll be forever indebted to Tom Holzer, my thesis adviser and mentor, who taught me the importance of presenting complex physics concepts in a simple way. Outreach is meaningless without the hard work and dedication of the scientific community, so I thank my heliophysics colleagues for conducting world class scientific research that continually provides the content to help educate the world. Lastly, I’d like to thank AGU for recognizing and appreciating scientists who take time away from their normal work to conduct vitally important outreach.

—Holly Gilbert, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Correction, 8 January 2016: An earlier version of this article included the wrong response. The article has been updated to present the correct response by Holly Gilbert.

Citation: AGU (2016), Holly Gilbert receives 2015 Athelstan Spilhaus Award, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO042509. Published on 5 January 2016.

© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0