Psychologist Alison Gopnik wins Carl Sagan prize for promoting science

August 10, 2021
By: Yasmin Anwar, Media relations
UC Berkeley psychologist Alison Gopnik holding grandson Atticus.
UC Berkeley psychologist Alison Gopnik, holding her grandson Atticus, is winner of the 2021 Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization. (Photo courtesy of Alison Gopnik)

Psychologist Alison Gopnik, a world-renowned expert in child development and author of several popular books including The Scientist in the Crib, The Philosophical Baby, and The Gardener and the Carpenter, has won the 2021 Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization.

The prize, which comes with $5,000 in cash, is awarded by Wonderfest, a San Francisco Bay Area-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting scientific curiosity and discovery. It was launched in 1997, shortly after the death of American astronomer Carl Sagan. The annual prize recognizes researchers who “have contributed mightily to the public understanding and appreciation of science.”

“This is a moment when it’s more important than ever before for scientists to communicate to the public, and Wonderfest is a great institution that plays a major role in the public understanding of science,” Gopnik said. “I’m delighted and honored to receive this prize.”

Last year’s Sagan Prize winner was Berkeley sleep researcher Matthew Walker. Other Berkeley winners of the Sagan Prize have included astronomer Dan Werthimer, chief scientist at the Berkeley SETI Research Center (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence); biochemist Jennifer Doudna, co-discoverer of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool; biologist and paleontologist Kevin Padian; and astronomers Gibor Basri, Geoff Marcy, Alex Filippenko and Jill Tarter.

Born in Philadelphia and raised in Montreal, Canada, Gopnik earned her bachelor’s degree from McGill University and her Ph.D. from the UK’s University of Oxford. She joined Berkeley’s faculty in 1988 after teaching at the University of Toronto.

Gopnik writes a regular “Mind & Matter” column for the Wall Street Journal and has also written articles for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books and Slate. Her TED Talk What do Babies Think” has received more than 4 million views. Among numerous other media appearances, she has been interviewed on Radio LabThe Colbert Report and the Charlie Rose Show.

She is a fellow of the Cognitive Science Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Last year, she won a lifetime achievement award from the Association for Psychological Science.

“Sagan would be proud to know that Alison Gopnik, so renowned for her research and her outreach, has received Wonderfest’s Sagan Prize for 2021,” said Tucker Hiatt, executive director of Wonderfest.