Carlo Laj

2011 Excellence in Earth and Space Science Education Award Winner

Carlo E. Laj received the Excellence in Geophysical Education Award at the 2011 AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 7 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award honors “a sustained commitment to excellence in geophysical education by a team, individual, or group.”


It is with great pleasure that I introduce Carlo Laj for the Excellence in Geophysical Education Award. Carlo is an outstanding leader in the globalization of education. He has a passion for making education an international experience. Long before Carlo became involved with education, he had established himself as a global leader for research in geomagnetism and paleomagnetism, for which he received recognition and became an AGU Fellow. He has been a force in exploring important developments in the history of geomagnetism. It was this fascination for trying to understand how the Earth works and its history, along with his passion for trying to share his knowledge, that caused him to become an incredible proponent of geophysical education. He recognized the need for a public that was well educated in science in order to make wise choices. What better way to inform great numbers of people than to educate the teachers? I believe the seeds were planted for Carlo to recognize the importance of international education with his experience as an exchange student from Italy spending time in an American high school in Winnetka, Ill. Not only could he get many people informed about geophysical education, but he could also use the entire world as a base from which to draw the teachers he was going to educate!

And so it was that with his creativity in approaches to achieving this goal, he established programs to strengthen the preparation of secondary Earth science teachers. Carlo persuaded the newly organized European Geosciences Union (EGU) to establish a committee on education. He recruited government and private sponsors to provide financial support for the travel expenses of about 80 teachers from Europe to attend a workshop—Geosciences Information For Teachers, or GIFT—at EGU. The challenges of a multicultural, multilanguage audience were not only met but were also built on so that these European GIFTs now include not only teachers from Europe but also teachers from China, Mexico, the United States, Canada, and Japan. These highly successful workshops offer high-quality resources, not only to the teachers in attendance (now numbering more than 700) but also to teachers globally, because much of the information presented at the workshops is readily available on the GIFT Web site. Carlo’s development of the education program within the European community is the reason that it exists today.

It is very clear that Carlo has been the keystone for creating an international perspective in education and, as such, expanding public understanding of geophysics and how scientists think and work. His work with teachers from high schools across Europe and in the United States in a “Teachers at Sea” program has established this experience as a unique opportunity for teachers to be exposed to oceanographic research while on European research vessels. His organization of the European GIFT workshops since their inception at EGU is influencing thousands of students. His influence is truly international. He is most deserving of this award.


—Stephen Macko, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville


Thank you, Steve, for your efforts in nominating me for this award and for your citation, so flattering that I hardly recognize myself. I am very happy and proud to receive this award, but not for one second do I forget the many people who have contributed to my being here today.

You are very right in saying that it was during my year at New Trier High School in Winnetka, when I was a 16-year-old exchange student from Italy, that the seeds were planted for me to recognize the importance of international education. Thanks to two wonderful people, my physics teacher Mr. Bailey and my adviser Mr. Harper, I was introduced to the beauty of science, because until then I was more attracted to literary studies. Since then, I know that a high school teacher can really change the life of a student, and I later realized how important it is to give teachers every opportunity to keep up with the most recent developments in science. Needless to say, I also think of all the other people who have been so important in my educational career. When I walked into an AGU Geosciences Information For Teachers (GIFT) workshop here in San Francisco, Judy Scotchmoor was the “spark” that compelled me to start organizing the European Geosciences Union (EGU) workshops for teachers (this experience also permanently transformed me into a trilobite). Jill Karsten welcomed me into the AGU Committee on Education and Human Resources, where I served three most exciting terms and met many ­people—­it is impossible to list all of them in this short response—who have so greatly influenced my participation in improving science education.

At EGU, both André Berger and Arne Richter have helped me immensely in establishing the EGU Committee on Education and have always shown their full support throughout these many years.

Most of all, I wish to dedicate this award to my colleagues from the EGU Committee on Education, two of whom are present in the audience. I have been very lucky to have this devoted group with me in these wonderful 10 years of activity. They have sometimes shared my own enthusiasm and ideas, more often shared their enthusiasm and ideas with me. They have been the real builders of the stairway upon which teachers have climbed to meet fellow teachers from other countries, to assimilate different teaching approaches, and to develop international collaborations among teachers.

From my perspective, the seeds planted at New Trier took a long time to blossom. But looking back, I believe this blossoming has been one of the most important aspects of my professional and nonprofessional life. If I can draw a conclusion, it would be to encourage my fellow scientists to spread their science to teachers and to the general public. It is a most rewarding and useful action for a scientist!

—Carlo Laj, Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, CEA/CNRS/UVSQ, Gif-sur-Yvette, France