"My philosophy is to show students that science is engaging, human, and part of our cultural heritage."
Andrew Fraknoi is an award-winning scientist and educator, known for his skill in interpreting astronomical discoveries and ideas in everyday language. Fraknoi retired in 2017 as the Chair of the Astronomy Department at Foothill College and now teaches introductory astronomy and physics at the Fromm Institute of the University of San Francisco and through the OLLI Program at San Francisco State University. In 2007, he was selected as Professor of the Year for the state of California by the Carnegie Endowment for Higher Education.
Fraknoi served for 14 years as the Executive Director of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, an international scientific and educational organization founded in 1889. He edited its popular-level magazine, Mercury, and started its newsletter for teachers, Universe in the Classroom. He founded and directed the Society’s Project ASTRO, a program that trains and brings professional and amateur astronomers into 4th – 9th grade classrooms (in regional sites throughout the U.S.) After retiring as Executive Director, he has worked as Senior Educator for the Society, developing educational materials and leading educational workshops.
A prolific writer, Fraknoi is the lead author of Astronomy, a nationally-adopted introductory college textbook, published free on-line by OpenStax with support from the Gates Foundation and others. It is now being used by over 1,000 professors and teachers around the world.
He is also the editor of two award-winning guides for teachers, The Universe at Your Fingertips and Solar Science. He has written two children’s book on astronomy, Disney’s Wonderful World of Space, and When the Sun Goes Dark. With Dr. Sidney Wolff, he was the founding editor of Astronomy Education Review, an on-line journal/magazine about astronomy education. Recently, he has started writing short science-fiction stories extrapolating astronomical ideas; three of his stories have been published so far.
Radio listeners know Fraknoi as a frequent guest on local and national news and talk programs. In Northern California, he appeared for over 35 years on the Jim Eason, Gil Gross, and Ronn Owens programs on KGO. He has also been a regular guest on The Forum Program (with Michael Krasny) on KQED, and was the “astronomer-in residence” on the syndicated Mark and Brian Show out of Los Angeles. Nationally, he has been heard on Science Friday and Weekend All Things Considered on National Public
Radio. His TV appearances include The Today Show, MSNBC, CBS Morning News, and Larry King Live.
Fraknoi serves on the Board of Trustees of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, a scientific and educational organization; as an elected Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences; and as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Lick Observatory Board.
Educated at Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley, Fraknoi has also taught astronomy and physics at San Francisco State University, the City College of San Francisco, Canada College, and several campuses of the University of California Extension Division.
More Informal Comments:
I became interested in astronomy through reading space-related comic books, of all things. When our family came to America, in 1959, I was 11 and did not speak a word of English. My parents hit on the idea of reading comic books with me, where the pictures helped with the words. I became fascinated with characters and stories that took place in outer space, including Superman. Once I learned English well enough, as one quickly does at that age, I graduated to taking out astronomy books for kids from the library, and my path was clear.
I was fortunate to be accepted into a wonderfully nerdy and academic high school in New York City, which further fed the flames of my astronomical interest. By the time, I got to college, I was a proud astronomy major from my freshman year on.
After graduate school, I discovered that my interests were stronger in education than in research and that I was passionate about teaching. Since then, my career has been about sharing the excitement of astronomy with classrooms of non-science majors, with K-12 teachers, with radio audiences, with textbook readers, and with the public at large.
He has given more than 400 public lectures over the years, in such venues as the Commonwealth Club of California, the Celebrity Forum Lectures at Flint Theater, the Carmel Authors and Ideas Festival, the San Diego ComicFest, the Century Club, the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City, and SkeptiCAL (the California convention of skeptics).
Recognitions and Awards
Asteroid 4859 has been named Asteroid Fraknoi by the International Astronomical Union to honor his work in sharing the excitement of modern astronomy with students, teachers and the public. (He is eager to point out, however, that his asteroid orbits peacefully in the main belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter, and is not a danger to planet Earth.)
In 2011, Fraknoi was elected Honorary Member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, a distinction bestowed on only 15 living scientists. In 2012, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific established “The Fraknoi Supporter’s Award” to recognize people who have given exceptional service to and support of the Society; Fraknoi was the first recipient. He was elected a Fellow of the American Astronomical Society in 2020.
He received the Annenberg Foundation Prize of the American Astronomical Society (the highest honor in the field of astronomy education), as well as the Klumpke-Roberts Prize of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (given for a lifetime of contributions to popularizing astronomy.) He was the 2007 recipient of the Gemant Prize of the American Institute of Physics for his work in making connections between physics and culture. In 2013, the National Science Teachers’ Association gave him the Michael Faraday Award for outstanding contributions to science communication. The National Space Club presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Space Science Education during the 2019 Robert Goddard Memorial Banquet.