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A Celebration of the Arts and Sciences: Sarton Prize for Poetry and Rumford Prize for Science

Watch video of this event.

On April 14th, 2016, Jonathan Fanton welcomed the attendees to a program featuring a poetry reading by Sarton Prize winner Vanesha Pravin. Pravin’s poems have appeared in Slate, Callaloo, Crab Orchard Review, Many Mountains Moving, Prodigal, and Phoebe. The evening also featured presentation by Rumford Prize winners Dr. Federico Capasso and Dr. Alfred Cho. At Bell Laboratories in 1994, Drs. Capasso and Cho invented the quantum cascade (qc) laser. As part of their presentation, Drs. Capasso and Cho discussed their invention of this revolutionary new light source as well as some of its common applications.

Good evening and welcome to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the Academy, and it is my pleasure to call to order the 2037th Stated Meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The American Academy was founded in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock and other scholar-patriots to, in the words of our charter, “cultivate ever art and science which many tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent and virtuous people.” For over 235 years, the Academy has used its convening capacity to serve the nation as a champion of scholarship, civil dialogue and useful knowledge. The Academy’s community includes those who discover and advance knowledge, those who apply knowledge to the problems of society as well as those who use knowledge to enrich the culture of the nation and the world.

Tonight, the Academy will present two awards that represent the essence of the arts and sciences: the Sarton Prize for Poetry and the Rumford Science Prize. As the Academy’s first president James Bowdoin said, “It is the part of a patriot philosopher to pursue every hint—to cultivate every enquiry which may eventually tend to the security and welfare of his fellow citizens, the extension of their commerce, and the improvement of those arts, which adorn and embellish life.” This evening, we celebrate three such patriot-philosophers for their contributions and excellence in the arts and sciences, their service as champions of knowledge for the common good, and their commitment to the ideals upon which the Academy was founded.

Over the years, the Academy has maintained a deep connection to poetry. Since its founding, the Academy has elected 143 poets, 18 of whom served as Poet Laureate, including Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Pinsky, and Natasha Trethewey, among others.

This April marks the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month, celebrated worldwide by schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, poets and the public to honor poetry’s vital place in our culture. It is our great pleasure to participate in this month’s celebration by awarding the Academy’s Sarton Prize for Poetry.

Presented for the first time in 2008, the Sarton Prize recognizes emerging poets of exceptional promise and distinguished achievement. The prize was established to honor the memory of longtime Academy Fellow May Sarton, a poet, novelist, and teacher who encouraged the work of young poets during her lifetime. Past recipients include Arda Collins, Matthew Dickman, Dawn Lundy Martin, Meghan O’Rourke, and Matthew Zapruder.

In a few moments Professor Maggie Dietz from the University of Massachusetts Lowell will provide a more formal introduction of the Sarton Prize and this year’s recipient, Vanesha Pravin.

The Academy’s Rumford Prize was established in 1839 and is one of the oldest scientific prizes in the United States. The prize recognizes contributions to the fields of heat and light. In 1796, Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford created an endowment for the prize. In a letter to John Adams on July 12, 1796 he wrote, “Desirous of contributing efficaciously to the advancement of a branch of science which has long employed my attention, and which appears to me to be of the highest importance to mankind; and wishing at the same time to leave a lasting testimony of my respect for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, I take the liberty to request that the Academy do me the honor to accept . . . funds . . . to transfer . . . to the author of the most important discovery or useful improvement . . . on heat and light, the preference always being given to such discoveries as shall in the opinion of the Academy tend most to promote the good of mankind.”

Count Rumford is known for his many inventions including the double broiler, the drip coffeepot, the modern kitchen range, and the Rumford Fireplace—an improved design of the fireplace to more efficiently heat a room. He also introduced the ‘standard candle’ meant to be a unit of luminous intensity, predating the candela, and his research into mechanical heat provided evidence for the Law of the Conservation of Energy.

Previous recipients of the Rumford Prize include: Thomas Edison (1895), Edwin Land (1945), Charles Townes (1961), Bruno Rossi (1976), and John Mather (1996), just to name a few.

Later in tonight’s program, Venky Narayanamurti, Benjamin Peirce Research Professor of Technology and Public Policy, and Founding Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University, will introduce the 2015 Rumford Prize recipients: Alfred Cho and Federico Capasso, co-inventors of the quantum cascade laser.

Let me now invite Professor Dietz up to the stage to present the Sarton Prize for Poetry. Professor Dietz currently teaches at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and served as assistant poetry editor for Slate magazine from 2004 to 2012. She has also served as director of the Favorite Poem Project, founded by Robert Pinsky during his terms as U.S. poet laureate. Professor Dietz is the recipient of the Jane Kenyon Award and the Wisconsin Library Associate Award for her debut collection of poems Perennial Fall (2006).

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