Thursday, March 28, 2013

Albert Baez, Science Educator and UNESCO Pioneer

Albert V. Baez was the first director of science education at UNESCO. Dr. Baez was the director of the science education program of UNESCO from 1961-67. During that period he organized and led a program to improve science education in secondary schools worldwide. The program included projects to improve physics education in Latin America, chemistry education in Asia, biology education in Africa, and mathematics education in the Arab states.

The trail breaking program he developed at UNESCO introduced simple, inexpensive kits to allow science experiments in secondary schools, produced films, and utilized programmed education techniques (which were very innovative at the time) for the teachers of science. The work depended significantly on Dr. Baez' earlier participation in the Physics Science Studies Committee which helped to improve physics education in U.S. secondary schools.

Previously, in 1951, he had served UNESCO in Baghdad. The Government of Iraq had requested of the United Nations assistance in setting up physics, chemistry and biology departments at the University College of Baghdad which was the forerunner of what would become the University of Baghdad.

In the 1980s, he served as chairman of the Commission on Education for the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Dr. Baez was a distinguished physicist, known professionally as the co-inventor (in 1948) of the X-ray reflection microscope. He also developed optics for the X-ray telescope.  In 1991, the International Society for Optical Engineering awarded him and his coinventor the Dennis Gabor Award for pioneering contributions to the development of X-ray imaging microscopes and X-ray imaging telescopes.

During his long teaching career he served on the faculties of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkeley and other universities. A Quaker and a pacifist, he refused to use his considerable expertise to advance the nuclear arms race during the Cold War.

In retirement, he served as president of Vivamos Mejor (Let Us Live Better), an organization is dedicated to improving the quality of life through science-based education and community development projects in Latin America. He was active in the work of Bread and Roses, an organization founded by his daughter Mimi Baez Farina to bring free live music to people confined in institutions - jails, hospitals, juvenile facilities and rest homes. He endowed the Hispanic Engineer Albert Baez Award, which is given for Outstanding Technical Contribution to Humanity.

In 1956 (with W.C. Nixon) he published Lectures on the X-ray Microscope, and in 1967 he wrote The New College Physics: A Spiral Approach. He co-authored The Environment and Science and Technology Education, published in 1987, and with his wife, Joan Baez Senior, the memoir A Year in Baghdad in 1988. To those in the international community interested in science education, he is known as a founding father of their work.

To the general public he is perhaps better known as the father who introduced his daughters, Joan Baez and Mimi Baez Farina to music, to the love of peace, and to social responsibility. Dr. Baez was born on November 15, 1912, in Puebla, Mexico, and came to the United States with his family at two years of age. He received a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Drew University, a master's degree in physics from Syracuse University, a master's degree in mathematics and a doctorate in physics from Stanford University.

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