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Immunologist J. John Cohen receives the 2010 AAAS Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has named Dr. J. John Cohen, professor of immunology and medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, as winner of the 2010 AAAS Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award.

Cohen was honored for his outstanding achievements in demystifying science for non-scientists with public programs including a series of free lectures on science and medicine, informal discussions with scientists performing groundbreaking research, and a juried art exhibition. He will receive the award during a 19 February ceremony at the 2011 AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

"The AAAS Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology is a great honor that befits the outstanding work of Dr. John Cohen," said Gov. John Hickenlooper. "John has dedicated his career to connecting the world of medical sciences to the public. He has the ability to pique the curiosity of everyone, from school children to scientists. On behalf of the State of Colorado, it is my pleasure to congratulate John on this prestigious award."

"Dr. J. John Cohen has made his extensive understanding of the medical sciences accessible to all people and has been a leader in public outreach and education in the science community," Cohen's nomination materials said. "By combining the mind and creativity of an experienced researcher with the skill of a master teacher, John embodies the perfect ambassador of science to the public."

In 1989, Dr. Cohen founded the CU Mini Med School, a free series of talks on the science that underlies the field of medicine. Since then more than 17,000 have attended Mini Med and its success has inspired similar programs replicated by more than 80 schools and hospitals around the world. From its modest beginnings in a classroom of the medical school, Mini Med now fills the IMAX Theater at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and is broadcast free to sites around the state.

Mini Med "empowers the students by explaining medicine in common language, without terminology, that they can comprehend," according to Cohen's nomination materials, and has improved the relationship between the medical school and the surrounding community. The Mini Med concept has been endorsed by the National Institutes of Health, Office of Science Education.

In 2003, inspired by the French Caf Philosophique, Dr. Cohen started Denver's Caf Scientifique, a public forum for scientific discussions of cutting-edge research and hot topics. Caf Scientifique is regularly attended by about 200 people, filling the room where it is held 10 times a year. A second Denver Caf Scientifique was started in 2010 and it had 150 attendees on its first night. Cohen also helped organize similar cafes in Boulder, Colorado Springs, Frisco, and Fort Collins in addition to other cities in the United States and Canada.

Recently, Dr. Cohen organized Art in Science | Science in Art, a juried exhibition of images representing scientific research products and artists' interpretations of scientific concepts by University of Colorado-affiliated scientists and artists. Each image is accompanied by an explanation of the relevant science written in layman's terms. Due to the exhibition's visual nature, it has reached a different audience than other science programs and has toured in libraries, restaurants, and science museums around the country over the last two years. A second competition is in the works.

AAAS Chief Executive Officer Alan I. Leshner, executive publisher of the journal Science, said: "Dr. Cohen has proven that he is highly deserving of the 2010 AAAS Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award through his innovative efforts to make science interesting and engaging for the general public."

Dr. Cohen's research has focused on the process of programmed cell death, called apoptosis. His team was among the first to study this topic and one of Cohen's papers has been cited nearly 2,000 times, making him one of the Institute for Science Information's most highly cited researchers. He became an AAAS Fellow in 2000 and is a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, the American Association of Immunologists, and the American Association for the History of Medicine.

Dr. Cohen's passion for chemistry stretches back to his childhood when, at age 6, he had a chemistry lab in his basement. At age 12, he had his first hospital job as a clinical biochemistry technician. Dr. Cohen earned his BSc, MSc, PhD and MD, CM all at McGill University in Montreal, his hometown. He also interned at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal and had two postdoctoral fellowships, one at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and another at the National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, and University College, London.

Since becoming an assistant professor in 1972, Dr. Cohen has taught immunology courses in all professional programs at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, including a popular class for graduate students who don't want to become immunologists. He received an Excellence in Teaching Award annually 1982-2007 and was awarded in 2001 the Robert J. Glaser Distinguished Teacher Award, recognizing the best teachers in schools of medicine nationally. Currently he is studying how students learn and working on a manuscript called "Lecture 3.0: A Hack for Overclocked Wetware," which proposes that both students and teachers consider a new neuroscience approach to lectures.

Established in 1987, the AAAS Award for Public Understanding of Science & Technology recognizes scientists or engineers who, while working in their fields, have also contributed substantially to public understanding of science and technology. Contributions include books, articles in magazines and newspaper, broadcasting, lecturing, museum presentation and exhibit design.

The AAAS Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award will be presented at the 177th AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., which will take place 17-21 February 2011. The awards ceremony and reception will be held at the Grand Ballroom North, Washington Renaissance Downtown, on Saturday, 19 February at 6:00 p.m.


Contact: Katharine Zambon
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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