Christopher M. Reddy

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

2018 Ambassador Award Winner

Esteban G. Jobbágy, Rosaly M. C. Lopes, and Christopher M. Reddy received the 2018 Ambassador Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held 12 December 2018 in Washington, D. C. The award is in recognition of “outstanding contributions to one or more of the following area(s): societal impact, service to the Earth and space community, scientific leadership, and promotion of talent/career pool.”


Dr. Christopher Reddy embodies the concept of a scientific ambassador through his tireless efforts to represent, promote, and translate science to a diverse range of groups outside the ivory tower.

Chris’s confidence as an ambassador stems from his deep scientific expertise in environmental chemistry, which draws him into myriad real-world events. With over 200 publications, Chris has developed a niche of studying emerging issues by developing and applying new technologies, simultaneously creating knowledge while answering questions of societal importance. But what makes Chris such an effective ambassador is his persistence in seeking out those who will benefit from his knowledge and then actively engaging them.

Chris constantly reaches out to policy makers, industry representatives, media, spill responders, and the mythical entity known as the general public. As a result, when it comes to the issue of ocean contamination, Chris has become a first point of contact among academic scientists—our ambassador. On any given day, he could be counseling members of Congress, military admirals, corporate executives, reporters, foreign officials, or high school students working on a science fair project. Chris’s special blend of rigor and clear communication has engendered trust among those whose interests intersect with his expertise, which has in turn provided him an exceptional platform from which he can further engage. For example, Chris is one of few academic scientists to develop a level of trust among federal response officials such that he is welcomed into the Unified Command structure during major events. Chris is simply voracious in his appetite to engage for the benefit of science.

Another theme that pervades Chris’s activities is that he challenges everyone—scientists, reporters, congressional representatives—to improve their communication and their use of science. He challenged all scientists to serve as ambassadors in his Science editorial “Scientist Citizens”; he challenged a frenzied media to get their information right in his CNN op-ed “How Reporters Mangle Science on Gulf Oil”; he challenged the disciplinary vernacular that pervades AGU meetings in his Eos editorial “Dude, You Are Speaking Romulan”; and he challenged popular perception of chemical dispersant use in a CNN op-ed we coauthored, “A Frightening Tool to Fight Oil Spills?” Not only is Chris a consummate ambassador for science, but also he pushes all of us to do our equal part. We would do well to heed his advice.

—David Valentine, University of California, Santa Barbara


I thank AGU for the Ambassador Award and Prof. David L. Valentine (University of California, Santa Barbara) for his citation. It is a humbling yet inspiring honor. It cements my resolve to continue my efforts to communicate the culture and function of science beyond the ivory tower. These are challenging times for science, but I believe that fostering a sense of trust and openness is critical to building new and more effective science ambassadors.

In his 2014 book American Ambassadors, Dennis Jett wrote that “Diplomacy, like politics, can be described as the art of the possible.” To me, science diplomacy is very much the art of the possible. Academia often creates more challenges for itself than necessary by relying on terms and customs that are foreign to many. By improving and ultimately delivering the information that the lay public, media, and elected officials need, researchers are engaging in a very concrete and visible example of the art of the possible.

I once asked Bill Rugh what makes a successful diplomat. Rugh, who was stationed in the Middle East from the 1960s to the 1990s and was U.S. ambassador to both Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, emphasized the importance of appreciating his hosts’ culture to understand what is important to them, of meeting with them to develop a sense of honesty and mutual trust, and of mentoring those junior to him. Ambassador Rugh just as easily could have been describing what is important to any scientist attempting to explain his or her work to a journalist, a congressperson, or a grade-school classroom.

I have been lucky to have had many mentors through my career and been afforded the luxuries of many life experiences that have contributed to my growth as a scientist and a person. Learning from my mistakes while continuing to hone my skills has been crucial to that growth. At the same time, training opportunities through the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and MIT’s Sloan School of Management allowed me to learn from leaders in business, diplomacy, and the military. These courses also taught me that understanding the cultures of those who value the knowledge that science offers them to make the most well informed decisions possible is the cornerstone to being a successful science ambassador.

—Christopher M. Reddy, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Mass.