Ira Flatow gives inauguaral Frank Drake Lectureship at Green Bank Observatory

“Wow, I’m really blown away by Green Bank!”

I spoke with Ira Flatow, host of the public radio program Science Friday and the recipient of the inaugural Frank Drake Lectureship at the Green Bank Observatory.

“You know I had heard about it for years, had visited all kinds of other famous telescopes,” he said, “but when I went down telescope row there and saw all those famous telescopes it really hit home how important this place is historically.   And then seeing the first radio telescopes out front here and then seeing the main big Green Bank Telescope and the size of it; I didn’t realize how big that was, my head went poof!”

Flatow was given star treatment when he toured the GBO on March 19th ahead of his lecture in the science center auditorium.  Flatow who can remember covering Frank Drake, one of the first astronomers at the observatory when it opened in 1958, was excited to receive this honor.

“I started in this business way before you were born, I started in this business in the 70’s,” said Flatow. “I remember talking about Frank Drake when we were talking about the Frank Drake equation; I knew Carl Sagan, Frank Drake was his mentor,  I knew everybody working up at Cornell [University] and everybody working down here, and so I’m very, very honored.”

Flatow is the host of Science Friday, a weekly program covering a very wide variety of scientific topics that’s heard on public radio stations across the county.  He said in almost 30 years of doing the show he’s found that not only is science fun and sexy, but contrary to popular belief, people really love science.

“People love to talk about science,” he said. “You may not think so from what you hear in the popular culture ‘Oh people just can’t understand science’.  They may understand what scientists do, but they love to talk about science.”

And it’s not just people.  In his talk, Flatow demonstrated that big corporations are taking notice too and incorporating science into their advertising in such a way as to make science an everyday event rather than an extraordinary one.

“They are spending hundreds of millions of dollars, and given a choice of where to spend the money, this is why I say follow the money if you want to know how popular the science is,” said Flatow. “Follow the money where big bucks are being spent to attract people to watch it, buy it, it’s going toward people who are science based.”

Flatow is also involved with another project near and dear to his heart, the Science Friday Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to bringing science to everyone. In addition to the radio show Science Friday, they’ve also added a podcast.   He said between the radio show and the podcast, they have 2 million listeners each week. But the initiative goes well beyond that.

“We created educational materials out of the radio show and now we have a whole educational division that makes teaching materials for teachers and students.  We create events for them, we create Facebook Live to teach teachers how to do things. We now also do videos; we do terrific videos that are connected to what we do in the radio and are independent of what we do.”

The Frank Drake Lectureship is an annual event dedicated to recognizing those in scientific fields who strive to make science accessible to everyone.   GBO Director Dr. Karen O’Neil said they already have someone in mind for next year’s lecture, but you’ll just have to wait until next spring to find out who that is.

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director and Traffic Manager. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather along with Chuck on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8pm as they host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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