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The Recognition of One's Peers

Physicists often pursue our work with little reward other than the (very considerable) pleasure of thinking things through, of discovering how things work, of exploring some tiny part of the universe no one has ever explored, of being part of a community of like-minded people. But there are times when our efforts are recognized by our peers as being important ... useful.

This website is devoted to recognizing some of those Hispanic-Americans who have made, or are making, note-worthy contributions to the study and/or teaching of physics. But how do we select those that will appear on this site?

One of the most visible awards is the Nobel Prize (http://nobelprize.org/). There are other prizes and awards of a similar nature but none has achieved the status of the Nobel Prize. Selecting a Nobel Prize winner is a lengthy and rigorous process and many deserving scientists are never chosen. But those that have been awarded the Nobel Prize have usually been involved with a discovery or development that has changed our understanding of the world, or the way we live in it.

The American Physical Society (http://www.aps.org/), the largest physics research society in America, has numerous awards that are designed to highlight the career accomplishments of physicists. Where as the Nobel Prize usually points to a portion of the career of a scientist, being chosen a Fellow of the American Physical Society (http://www.aps.org/programs/honors/fellowships/) is a recognition of one's whole contribution to the field of physics.

The APS Edward A. Bouchet Award (http://www.aps.org/programs/honors/awards/bouchet.cfm) is designed to recognize the contributions of physicists from under-represented groups. And, though the award is limited to African-American, Hispanic-American or Native American physicists, the same standard of significant contribution to physics and effective communication applies to the those that win this award as those that win any other APS prizes.

The American Association of Physics Teachers (http://www.aapt.org/), the foremost physics society devoted to teaching and education, also has a set of awards and prizes to recognize the accomplishments of physicists and teachers. The Richtmyer Memorial Award (http://www.aapt.org/Grants/richtmyer.cfm) is given to those who have not only made outstanding contributions to physics but have effectively communicated those discoveries to physics educators.

In 2006, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the association, the AAPT asked its members to each nominate three (living) physicists who were influential in physics and/or physics education. The 75 most nominated people were then interviewed about past and future trends in physics and physics education. The interviews were collected and published in 75: Celebrating 75 Years of Excellence in Understanding and Appreciation of Physics Through Teaching, an anniversary booklet for the association. This was an unusual recognition since the people selected were being recognized by the entire membership of the society, most other awards are chosen by committees or some sub-set of the group.

Another honor indicative of a sustained career of exceptional merit is being elected to the National Academy of Sciences (http://www.nasonline.org/). This prestigious body of scientists is frequently asked by Congress and the White House to provide analysis on various scientific issues.

There are awards that recognize the promise of excellence given to those who are still at the beginning of their career but have already made significant contributions.The MacArthur Fellows Program (http://www.macfound.org/programs/fel/fel_overview.htm) sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation (http://www.macfound.org/) is an example of such a program.

Though we have listed these few awards specifically there are many more awards, prizes and other forms of recognition that honor those who have made and are continuing to make significant contributions to the study and teaching of physics.


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