FRIB outreach coordinator and doctoral student recognized for advancing research impact in society

Zachary Constan, National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory and FRIB outreach coordinator, and Daniel Puentes, doctoral student in physics at FRIB, have won awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Center for Advancing Research Impact in Society (ARIS). Their work being recognized is in advancing the translation of research for the public good, accomplishing societal impacts either by engaging the public in the research process itself or by complementary activities such as science communication and educational outreach.

Zachary Constan

Constan received an Impact Goals Award for engaging the public, generating enthusiasm and learning among young people for scientific careers, and building innovative collaborations that cross disciplines to illustrate and translate the power of research in physics and other areas. In partnership with volunteer faculty members, MSU students, public residents, and teachers around the region, he has developed and conducted facility tours, summer programs for teachers and students, workshops for K-12 students and their teachers, presentations for science festivals, and many other activities.

“As an NSF-sponsored center for studying and promoting excellence in broader impacts, ARIS has a unique perspective on the intersection of research and society,” said Constan. “Outreach specialists pursue careers in a niche field that ARIS deeply understands. Thus, their recognition takes on a very special meaning. And since outreach, like research, is a team effort, this award belongs to FRIB's supportive administration, eager volunteers, and fantastic community partners.”

“Over 4,000 people visit the laboratory each year for an in-person tour. Additional guests participate in our numerous outreach activities. Zach is the single outreach coordinator for the laboratory. Even after 15 years, I’m always impressed by his unique energy when he interacts with our visitors,” said Glasmacher. “Recently, Zach has been a key player in a new collaboration with Lansing’s Impression 5 science museum. Zach and the rest of the laboratory’s outreach committee worked closely with the I-5 team to create hands-on activities that were approachable, interesting, and scientifically accurate. Zach’s contributions were paramount.”

Laurie Van Egeren, interim associate provost for university outreach and engagement, said that “Dr. Constan shines as an exemplary and imaginative communicator of meaningful programming. The depth and breadth of his work speak to his commitment to helping the public understand and love the study of physics as much as he does. He is a marvelous, inventive colleague and a critical part of MSU and its land-grant mission.”

Daniel Puentes

Puentes received an Impact Innovation Award for his collaboration with fellow award-winner Chelsie Boodoo to found MSU SciComm, a student-run organization that promotes awareness of science communication across the University. MSU SciComm assists students and young professionals in communicating complex scientific topics in clear and engaging ways. MSU SciComm hosts an annual Science Art Exhibition (held virtually in 2020), a blog, as well as other events and activities in science art, writing, and policy.

Puentes and Boodoo launched The SciFiles podcast in 2019, a weekly show that is posted online and airs on MSU student radio station WDBM on Sunday mornings at 9:30. Last year, The SciFiles won first place for college radio talk shows at the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Awards.

“I am grateful for the recognition,” said Puentes. “I always recognized the importance of outreach, and it’s even more important now when people are feeling disconnected during the pandemic. I also felt a sense of appreciation and value, that the work that I do with our teams matter.”

“Daniel has done a tremendous job explaining scientific discoveries to a variety of audiences,” said FRIB Laboratory Director Thomas Glasmacher. “In addition to his radio show, he was instrumental in bringing YouTube science communicator ‘Physics Girl’ Dianna Cowern and organizing a science-art showcase for a live-science arts show at FRIB. Explaining the importance of science to a broad audience can be difficult, and Daniel has certainly risen to the challenge.”

About ARIS

Along with the review of the intellectual merit of each proposal, the NSF reviews the merit of its broader impacts — the impacts and benefits to society of the proposed research. Each proposal submitted to the NSF must include a section about its intended broader impacts. As part of a wide range of efforts to underscore the importance of the broader impacts of research criterion, the NSF awarded a $5.2 million grant in 2018 to fund the Center for ARIS. The ARIS Center, housed at the University of Missouri, works with scientists and engagement practitioners to build capacity, advance scholarship, grow partnerships and provide resources to help these partners engage with and demonstrate the impact of research in their communities and society. Institutional partners include Michigan State University and nine other universities.

The ARIS awards recognize researchers and practitioners who are undertaking exemplary work in the societal impact of research and higher education. The inaugural awards will be presented at the 2021 Virtual ARIS Summit, 10-13 May.