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National Academies honors Levenson's film for NOVA

Thomas Levenson, associate professor of science writing in the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, has been awarded the 2005 National Academies Communications Award in the TV/radio category for "Origins: Back to the Beginning," a film broadcast on the NOVA series on PBS in 2004.

Philip Khoury, Kenan Sahin Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, said, "Tom Levenson has emerged as one of the most important and versatile communicators on science and technology in this country. He's already made significant contributions to television and as a writer, and his wonderful new award is one important indication of this fact."

Levenson served as producer, director and writer of the hour-long film. Judges praised "Origins: Back to the Beginning" for its "highly visual and accessible history of the origins and evolution of the cosmos."

Winners in three areas - books, newspapers and TV/radio - were selected from 219 entries. The $20,000 awards were presented at a conference for the honorees held in California on Nov. 10.

"I'm very grateful to the National Academies for recognizing my film, but I have to confess that it seems almost unfair to be rewarded for doing something that is so much fun," Levenson said.

"What this award really recognizes is the importance of communicating serious science to the broadest possible public," he said.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and an astrophysicist, serves as narrator for the NOVA series, which covers 14 billion years of cosmic evolution.

Levenson's film combines Tyson's fluid narration with dazzling visuals to suggest the bigness of the Big Bang. It also uses antic elements such as clips from "The Jetsons" cartoon series and images of children mastering Hula Hoops to bring physics down to earth.

He described the process of making "Origins: Back to the Beginning" as a great collegial experience.

"I spent time with enormously creative people working at the highest levels of their disciplines -- literally so, in the case of an observatory at 17,000 feet in the Andes -- and letting others in on the fun is both a great pleasure and an obligation. People want to know about science. I'm very glad the Academies thought I did pretty well in communicating it," Levenson said.

The awards are administered by the National Academies as part of the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative.

They are designed to recognize excellence in reporting and communicating science, engineering and medicine to the general public.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 30, 2005 (download PDF).

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