Remembering Dr. Alan J. Friedman

June 20, 2014
Dr. Alan J Friedman and colleagues

The Lawrence Hall of Science is saddened to learn that Dr. Alan Friedman, the founding director of our astronomy and physics education program, passed away on May 4, 2014.

Reading the comments posted over the last few days on the New York Hall of Science’s “Thinking of Alan” Web page gives a glimpse into the many hearts and lives that were touched by Dr. Friedman and show the profound impact he had on the field of science education.

During his 12 years at the Hall (1972–1984), Dr. Friedman established the Hall’s William K. Holt Planetarium and created the interactive format that led to that facility’s being named the “Best Planetarium in the World.” He pioneered the Participatory Oriented Planetarium (POP) workshops and the Planetarium Educator’s Workshop Guide, which evolved into Planetarium Activities for Student Success and now Planetarium Activities for Successful Shows. These resources help planetariums across the globe include live audience participation in their repertoire of shows.

When Susan Gregory, now the Hall’s deputy director, met Dr. Friedman in 1974, she says, “He came up to me with that twinkle in his eye and I listened to him talk about his vision for the Planetarium. His infectious enthusiasm for what he wanted to accomplish in science education made me realize that I’d chosen the right career.”

Dr. Friedman was a friend and mentor to many at the Hall, including Alan Gould, who was the Hall’s Planetarium Director and Curriculum Developer for 26 years. The first Planetarium show Gould learned to present at the Hall was created by Dr. Friedman. Gould remembers, “He was so creative and responsive to new ideas. When I came to him with audience feedback that they wanted to see and hear more about the constellations, he went right to work on a new idea that became one of our most successful and widely distributed shows: ‘Constellations Tonight.’ It’s an iconic example of audience participation. Instead of the presenter pointing out constellations and spewing out facts and stories, every audience member gets a star map and we teach them how to use it.”

The Lawrence Hall of Science honored Dr. Friedman in 2008 with the Excellence in Science Education Award for his innovation, leadership, and advocacy in informal science education. Gould remembers Dr. Friedman as a true gentleman, saying, “When he was honored, I was struck by how he spoke in his opening words not of himself, but of all the other people who he felt had made important contributions to our collective work.”

The Hall’s Director, Dr. Elizabeth Stage, interviewed Dr. Friedman in connection with the award and captured his thoughts and perspective on video. Dr. Stage says, “Alan was a person of high integrity and generosity of spirit who touched and encouraged many people, including me. He inspired and nurtured a love of science learning for generations of people. He invented the idea of an interactive Planetarium, and did so many things at the Lawrence Hall of Science, at the New York Hall of Science, and beyond.”

Alan Gould remembers a speech Dr. Friedman delivered while he was president of the International Planetarium Society (1985–1986). He pointed out that the uniqueness of a planetarium experience comes in no small part from the feeling of community the audience gets when they are together under the dome. “He believed that getting people excited about science was more important than trying to squeeze every idea and related fact into the content. He taught me that you should always leave the audience wanting more. I have found this wisdom to be applicable way beyond planetarium shows.”

Dr. Friedman was always very generous with his time and continued to mentor and advise colleagues at the Hall throughout his professional life. He embodied kindness and goodness and provided sage advice to many. He strengthened the entire field of informal science learning, and his influence is felt worldwide.

Thank you, Alan; we are so fortunate to have been part of your life and work, and we are honored to continue it.

2008 Interview with Dr. Alan Friedman
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

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