Eric Chaisson

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Eric J. Chaisson (pronounced chase-on, born on October 26, 1946, in Lowell, Massachusetts) is an American astrophysicist known for his research, teaching, and writing on the interdisciplinary science of cosmic evolution. He is a member of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, teaches natural science at Harvard University and is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.[1]

He has published popular articles about interstellar clouds and nebulae[2][3] as well as the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.[4][5] He studies complexity science utilizing the technical concept of energy rate density, [6][7] quantifies waste heating effects on climate change,[8][9][10] explores astrobiology and life in the Universe,[11][12] seeks to unify natural science[13][14] and works to improve science education nationally and internationally.[15][16]


Chaisson graduated in physics from University of Massachusetts Lowell in 1968 and earned his PhD at Harvard in 1972. He has held professorial appointments at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, Johns Hopkins University, Space Telescope Science Institute, and Tufts University, where he was for 20 years director of the Wright Center for Science Education while holding research professorships in the department of physics and in the school of education. He is now back at the Harvard College Observatory where, in semi-retirement, he teaches one course each year and works with colleagues at the allied Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

He was commissioned an officer in the U.S. Air Force at Lackland Air Force Base in 1970, serving on active duty and in the reserves until 1986, after which he was honorably discharged at the rank of captain. He took leave from academia in 1986 at MIT Lincoln Laboratory as staff physicist working on ballistic missile defense amidst occasional consulting and advising for many years with the military-intelligence community.[17] He spent sabbaticals in 1996 as visiting scholar and national lecturer for Phi Beta Kappa and in 2018 working on solar energy as visiting professor at University of Notre Dame and Distinguished Fellow at its Institute for Advanced Study.[18]


Chaisson’s research and writing have won several awards, such as the 1977 B.J. Bok Prize[19] for “original radio-astronomy discoveries,” the 1980 Smith-Weld Prize[20] for “best article by a Harvard faculty member,” a certificate of recognition from NASA with U.S. flag flown aboard the STS-31 mission for “contributions made to the Hubble Space Telescope program,”[21][22] as well as unsought fellowships from the Sloan Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences.

His book Cosmic Dawn in 1982 received the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, the Science Writing Award of the American Institute of Physics and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction. The Hubble Wars in 1995 also won the AIP’s Science Writing Award[23] and was listed in the "best books of the year" category by the New York Times.[24] Epic of Evolution won the 2007 Kistler Book Award[25] “for “increasing understanding of factors shaping the future of humanity.” And the textbook, Astronomy: The Universe at a Glance, won the Most Innovative New Textbook award in 2016 from the Textbook Authors Association.


  • Cosmic Dawn: The Origins of Matter and Life (in 9 foreign languages), Atlantic Monthly Press, 1981
  • The Invisible Universe: Probing Frontiers of Astrophysics (co-authored with G. Field; in 4 languages), Birkhauser-Boston, 1985
  • The Life Era: Cosmic Selection and Conscious Evolution, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987
  • Relatively Speaking: Black Holes, Relativity, and Fate of the Universe (in five languages), Norton, 1988
  • Universe: An Evolutionary Approach to Astronomy, Prentice-Hall, 1988
  • Astronomy Today (co-authored with S. McMillan), Pearson, 9 editions, 1993-2018
  • Astronomy: A Beginner’s Guide, (co-authored with S. McMillan), Pearson, 8 editions, 1995-2017
  • The Hubble Wars: Astrophysics Meets Astropolitics . . ., HarperCollins, 1994
  • The 13th Labor: Improving Science Education (co-edited with T-C. Kim), Gordon&Breach, 1999
  • Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature, Harvard University Press, 2001
  • Epic of Evolution: Seven Ages of the Cosmos (in 7 languages), Columbia University Press, 2006
  • Astronomy: The Universe at a Glance (co-authored with S. McMillan), Pearson, 2016

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Science, p1010, November 30, 2018
  2. ^ "Inside Cool Interstellar Clouds," Nature, p311, October 6, 1972
  3. ^ "Gaseous Nebulas", E. Chaisson, Scientific American, pp164-180, December 1978
  4. ^ ”Black Hole Reportedly Detected at Core of the Milky Way Galaxy,” W. Sullivan, New York Times, p24, March 15, 1979
  5. ^ Harvard Astronomer Announces Find of Possible Black Hole at Milky Way Galaxy's Core," The Harvard Crimson, March 16, 1979
  6. ^ Big History and the Future of Humanity, Spier, F., Wiley-Blackwell, London, 2011
  7. ^ ”Energy Flows in Low-Entropy Complex Systems,” E. Chaisson, Entropy, v 17, pp8007-8018, 2015
  8. ^ ”The Other Global Warming,” B. Venkataraman, Boston Sunday Globe, page 1, January 25, 2009
  9. ^ ”The Heat to come . . .” E. Chaisson, New Scientist, pp24-25, April 4, 2009
  10. ^ ”How clean is green?” A. Ananthaswamy, New Scientist, pp35-38, January 28, 2012
  11. ^ ”The Ascent of Life,” M. Chorost, New Scientist, pp35-37, January 21, 2012
  12. ^ "A Unifying Concept for Astrobiology," E. Chaisson, International Journal of Astrobiology, v 2, p 91, 2003.
  13. ^ ”Unnecessary Complexity,” D. McShea, Science, v 342, pp1319-1320, 2013
  14. ^ "Rhythm of the Cosmos: Finding Unity among the Natural Sciences", E. Chaisson, Tufts Magazine, pp 16-22, Spring, 2001.
  15. ^ The 13th Labor: Improving Science Education: A collection of essays from a workshop at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, T-C. Kim and E. Chaisson (eds.), Gordon&Breach Publishers, 1999
  16. ^ Astronomy Today, Chaisson, E. and S. McMillan, Pearson, 9 editions, 1993-2018
  17. ^ "Military Planners View the Shuttle As Way to Open Space for Warfare," Lyons, R., New York Times, p34, March 29, 1981
  18. ^ "Eric J. - Chaisson // Institute for Advanced Study // University of Notre Dame".
  19. ^ "Bok Prize". Department of Astronomy. Harvard University. Retrieved 2016-03-06.
  20. ^ Harvard Gazette, November 10, 1979
  21. ^ "Heaven comes down to earth with Annapolis man in the classroom," Harper, S., The Sunday Capital, April 2, 1989
  22. ^ "Early Results from the Hubble Space Telescope," Chaisson, E., Scientific American, pp44-52, June 1992
  23. ^ "Chaisson and Kitchener Honored,"Physics Today, p28, December 1995
  24. ^ New York Times Book Review, C. Raymo, May 29, 1994
  25. ^ [1] Foundation for the Future, 2007

External links[edit]