Richard E. Berendzen

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Richard E. Berendzen (born in Walters, Oklahoma, in 1938) is an American scientist.


Berendzen received a BS from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and MA and Ph.D degrees from Harvard University in 1967. He served as Carl Sagan's teaching assistant. He also has been awarded seven honorary doctorate degrees.

Scientific philosophy[edit]

Berendzen is one of those discussing the likelihood of life on other planets in Who's Out There? (1973), an award-winning NASA documentary film by Robert Drew

Berendzen believes that science fact, if presented well, can be far more engaging than science fiction. He is a proponent of the scientific search for extraterrestrial life (SETI). He feels that there is a tremendous need to make more people aware of the difference between real science and blatant pseudo-science. Also, he is active in efforts to increase educational opportunities for girls and minorities, especially to educate them better in science and technology.

Academic career[edit]

Joining the physics and astronomy faculty at Boston University, he became astronomy department chairman in 1971. Two years later he spent his sabbatical leave doing research at the National Academy of Sciences, American Council on Education, and Library of Congress.

In 1974 Berendzen went to American University, Washington, D.C., as a professor and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He then became the university provost, the chief academic officer. In 1980 Berendzen became AU's eleventh president.

In the 1980s at AU, several large buildings were constructed or acquired, including a residence hall, pavilion, arena, aquatic center, and an entire additional campus. The men's soccer team reached the National Collegiate Athletic Association title game, and a $100 million Capital Campaign was launched in anticipation of AU's centennial. The university's endowment and financial status improved. The General Education Program and Honors Program took shape and became key features. University-wide awards to faculty, students, and staff became an annual, distinguished tradition. While these tangible achievements were reached, the academic quality, admissions standards, and reputation of the university also rose markedly.

In 1990, Berendzen resigned as president of American University after a woman who received indecent calls complained to police, who traced the calls to his office.[1] Berendzen received no fine or community service requirements for two misdemeanor charges.[2] His jail terms were suspended with the requirement that he get psychiatric treatment.[3] Three years later he published a book addressing the calls and his experience as a victim of child molestation. Eventually he would return to American University in a teaching role.

In February 2006, Dr. Berendzen announced that in August 2006 he would retire as a full-time faculty member as Professor Emeritus of Physics. He continued as Director of NASA's Space Grant Consortium for Washington, D.C., until his retirement.


Two mayors of Washington, D.C., appointed Berendzen to chair the Commission on the Budget and Financial Priorities of the District of Columbia, an analysis and report to the mayors, the D.C. City Council, and the U.S. Congress. He was an advisor to the chief of police of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department.

Under the auspices of the New York Academy of Sciences and the American Astronomical Society, Berendzen organized and chaired a major international conference, titled "Education in and History of Modern Astronomy". With NASA support, he organized and chaired two other key conferences: "Life Beyond Earth and the Mind of Man" (at Boston University) and "Space 2000" (at American University). Proceedings of the Boston University conference were published by NASA (sp-318), and video of it became the core of a TV program narrated by Orson Welles, Who's Out There? (1973). Through a joint venture of the US National Archives and Google, the digital video is part of the Archives' free online collection.

Berendzen chaired the American Council on Education's Committee on Foreign Student Policy, served on the Marshall Scholarship Advisory Council of the United Kingdom, was a consultant to NASA, served on NASA's Exploration Advisory Task Force and Selection Panel for the Teacher-in-Space Program, is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Washington Academy of Sciences, and has testified about space and education before the United States Congress and the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

He has served on numerous boards; e.g., American Astronautical Society, American Association of Colleges, Business Council for International Understanding, Consortium of Universities of Metropolitan Washington Area, Federal City Council, Greater Washington Board of Trade, Points of Light Foundation, Mentors, Inc., Orphan Foundation of America, BlueCross BlueShield of Greater Washington, the Planetary Society.

Berendzen also has directed National Science Foundation and NASA grants and has received awards for outstanding teaching, the most recent in spring 2006 at American University.

The International Platform Association gave him the Glenn T. Seaborg Award for "Contributions to the American Public's Interest in Science."

He has been a commentator about science and education on WUSA-TV and WTOP radio (Washington, D.C.) and NBC (network), and a guest on numerous other radio and TV programs. He has given 1,900 invited lectures in the US and abroad.

Berendzen narrated Mike Cahill's 2011 sci-fi feature film Another Earth.[4]

In 1990 the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSICOP) presented Berendzen with the Public Education in Science Award.[5]


Berendzen has written several books and 40 articles in scholarly journals.

  • 1976: Man Discovers the Galaxies (with Richard Hart and Daniel Seeley). ISBN 0-88202-023-4 (hardcover)
    ISBN 0-231-05827-6 (1984 paperback)
  • 1986: Is My Armor Straight? A Year in the Life of a University President. ISBN 0-917561-01-5
  • 1988: Touch the Future: An Agenda for Global Education in America. ISBN 0-935641-02-5 (24-page pamphlet)
  • 1993: Come Here: A Man Overcomes the Tragic Aftermath of Childhood Sexual Abuse. ISBN 0-679-41777-X
  • 1999: Pulp Physics: Astronomy; Human Kind in Space and Time. ISBN 9781575110349 (audiobook)


  1. ^ "Obscene Phone Calls Are Traced to AU President". The Washington Post. 
  2. ^ "CHRONICLE". The New York Times. 24 May 1990. 
  3. ^ "A Professor, Abused And Abusive, Offers Excuses". The Chicago Tribune. 15 October 1993. 
  4. ^ Taylor, Ella (21 July 2011). "Another Chance At Life On 'Another Earth'". NPR. Retrieved 29 July 2011. Another Earth is cluttered with unnecessary debris, a philosophizing voice-over from real-life scientist Richard Berendzen and an elderly janitor (Kumar Pallana) who dispenses opaque wisdom every time he opens his mouth. 
  5. ^ Shore, Lys Ann (1987). "Controversies in Science and Fringe Science: From Animals and SETI to Quackery and SHC". The Skeptical Inquirer. 12 (1): 12–13. 

External links[edit]

Richard E. Berendzen on IMDb

Preceded by
Joseph J. Sisco
President, American University
Succeeded by
Joseph Duffey