Alan Friedman, We Will Miss You

The former director of the New York Hall of Science was a champion for the public’s understanding of and involvement with science.

Update:  A memorial service for Alan Friedman will be held Saturday, June 14, at the NY Hall of Science.

Alan Friedman, former director of the New York Hall of Science and a physicist, passed away this week. If you are involved at all in the world of science, science education, or the public understanding of science, you know we lost a giant.

On the surface, Alan appeared to be a quiet man, but his mind always worked at full speed. And he had the tenacity of a Brooklynite fighting Manhattan.

When Alan heard a new idea he liked, he would furrow his brow, squint his eyes, shake his head in approval, and burst into a big smile. To get that kind of reaction from Alan was the highest compliment, because he was an innovator. An idea man. A free thinker. He was a “disruptor” before the word became popular.

Alan knew a good idea when he saw one because he had so many of them. When he first came to New York decades ago to resurrect a decrepit structure that would later become the magnificent New York Hall of Science, I began to avidly appreciate his creativity. I read a paper—a proposal—that he had written about getting New Yorkers involved in science (see this archival New York Times piece about the idea). Bring science to where people lived and worked, he said. Place a bathroom scale in a World Trade Center elevator and watch your weight change as you ride up and down. Find where the shadow of one of New York’s pointy skyscrapers falls during the first day of spring, summer, fall, and winter, and mark that spot. Viola, you have an urban Stonehenge. They were simple but powerful ideas. (He talked about some of them on the show back in 1997. Read the transcript.)

It always gave me a warm feeling when I met Alan at a science meeting because his presence meant I had chosen wisely to be there. And I knew that Alan would have something unique and creative to say.

Whether it was creating spaces for science or fighting off wrong-headed politicians, Alan never waivered.

As Einstein’s mass warped space around it, Alan Friedman changed the landscape by his mere presence. He will be sorely missed.

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About Ira Flatow

Ira Flatow is the host and executive producer of Science FridayHis green thumb has revived many an office plant at death’s door.