Skip to main content
University of Wisconsin–Madison

Excellence in outreach recognized with inaugural Bassam Z. Shakhashiri Public Science Engagement Award

University of Wisconsin-Madison mascot Bucky Badger helps Chemistry Professor Bassam Shakhashiri perform a chemistry experiment during the second of two 50th anniversary shows of "Once Upon a Christmas Cheery in the Lab of Shakhashiri" to a sellout audience at the Middleton Performing Arts Center in Middleton, Wis., on Dec. 1, 2019. Started in 1970 by Shakhashiri as an end-of-the-fall-semester freshman chemistry lecture, the tradition has evolved into an annual science outreach event enjoyed by hundreds of people each year. The show is frequently recorded and broadcast on PBS Wisconsin. (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

Bassam Shakhashiri/Photo by Jeff Miller, UW–Madison

A conservation scientist with a goal of finding ways in which we can protect tropical forest biodiversity in an equitable way, and a teaching faculty member whose outreach work has led to the development of tactile nanoscale models to teach visually impaired students about nanotechnology and the nationwide expansion of the SCIENCountErs afterschool hands-on science and engineering program, have received the Bassam Z. Shakhashiri Public Science Engagement Award.

The award recognizes a UW–Madison faculty and academic staff member (one awarded to each category) who has shown excellence in engaging the public in their work in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) research.

The award is named for Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, emeritus professor of chemistry and the William T. Evjue Distinguished Chair for the Wisconsin Idea, in honor of his “Science is Fun” philosophy and long-term commitment to science education and public engagement. Shakhashiri joined the UW faculty in September of 1970 and retired in September 2021.

Zuzana Buřivalová

Zuzana Buřivalová/Photo by Todd Brown, Media Solutions, UW–Madison

“The selection committees have named Professor Zuzana Buřivalová (faculty awardee) and Dr. Andrew Greenberg (academic staff awardee) the inaugural recipients of the Bassam Shakhashiri Public Engagement in Science Awards and I join in offering my congratulations,” says Shakhashiri. “The hallmarks of UW–Madison are scholarly research, classroom teaching and public engagement. Our discoveries help satisfy curiosity. We nourish personal growth and development. We cultivate creativity. We foster community appreciation of science. We work to advance knowledge and to serve society.”


Andrew Greenberg

Andrew Greenberg/Photo by UW–Madison Engineering

Greenberg is distinguished teaching faculty IV in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Buřivalová is an assistant professor affiliated with the department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE).

“Science and society have what is essentially a social contract that enables great intellectual achievements but comes with mutual expectations of benefiting the human condition and protecting our planet,” Shakhashiri says.

“We must ensure that the next generation of scientists is both highly skilled technically and properly educated to carry on their scientific and educational work for the common good of society. Long live the Wisconsin Idea in the 21st Century.”

Shakhashiri is well known internationally for his leadership in promoting excellence in science education at all levels, for his commitment to engaging the public with science, and for his development and use of demonstrations in the teaching of chemistry in classrooms and in public settings, such as museums, convention centers, shopping malls and retirement homes.

The Bassam Z. Shakhashiri Public Science Engagement Award is supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the Morgridge Institute for Research, and UW–Madison’s Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education.

“The Wisconsin Idea is an important feature of who we are as members of the UW–Madison, and the Bassam Shakhashiri Public Science Engagement Award is one way to recognize those who live this concept,” says Steve Ackerman, vice chancellor for research and graduate education.

Buřivalová is the principal investigator of the Sound Forest Lab, a group of researchers using soundscapes – all the sounds that can be heard in a landscape – to understand the health of rainforests. The Sound Forest Lab collaborates with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), governments, and local communities to design research projects that can help on the ground.

“I am honored to be selected for the Bassam Z. Shakhashiri Public Engagement in Science Award,” Buřivalová says. “Making science engaging and fun for everyone, especially children, is something that I spend a lot of my free time on, and so it is wonderful to be recognized for this effort. The award will enable me to pursue further collaborations with artists – both visual artists and musicians – to bring conservation science and tropical forests closer to people living in cities.”

“An important by-product of our research is recording beautiful, unique and sometimes strange soundscapes,” Buřivalová adds. “We always try to use these soundscapes beyond the science – to inspire people to listen more to their landscapes, and be curious about what makes all the sounds they hear in nature.”

Greenberg previously served as the associate director of the Institute for Chemical Education (ICE) from 2010–21. In that role, Greenberg co-directed the education and outreach efforts of the UW–Madison Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center and helped lead the outreach efforts of ICE.

Greenberg designed and currently teaches Chemical Engineering in the Community, an outreach-focused course to help undergraduate and graduate students learn to communicate STEM research being conducted in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. He also is the education and outreach leader for the Untied States Department of Energy (DOE) funded Center for the Chemical Upcycling of Waste Plastics and leads the education and outreach efforts for multiple National Science Fourdation (NSF) projects and serves as the education and outreach advisory board member for the NSF National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI), a national consortium of 16 university nanotechnology cleanroom facilities.

“It is an honor to be selected as a recipient of the Bassam Shakhashiri Public Engagement in Science Award,” Greenberg says. “UW–Madison is at the epicenter of STEAM engagement. Faculty and staff at UW–Madison believe in the Wisconsin Idea and the importance of sharing the university and its work beyond campus boundaries. Professor Shakashiri is the embodiment of the Wisconsin Idea and a long-time advocate for faculty and staff to engage our communities and share our passions for STEAM. Through his efforts and the efforts of other faculty and staff at UW–Madison, there is a community of scientists and engineers who believe that their work does not stop in the laboratory and it extends to engaging the public in the work of the University.

Greenberg stresses that public engagement with STEAM is not just about sharing work being done by scientists and engineers at UW–Madison, it helps to inspire future STEAM students to pursue STEAM career opportunities.

“I have spent 20 years participating in science and engineering public engagement and never tire of seeing the excitement of K-12 students and the public when hearing about the great work of UW–Madison STEAM researchers,” Greenberg says. “I am truly fortunate to work at an institution that not only supports public engagement with science but celebrates individuals who are passionate about the importance of this work.”

By Natasha Kassulke,