NSB News Release

William S. Hammack Receives 2021 National Science Board Public Service Award

William S. Hammack

William S. Hammack (Credit and Larger Version)

April 30, 2021

Today the National Science Board (NSB) announced that William S. Hammack is a recipient of its 2021 Public Service Award. Hammack is an engineer and author from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

NSB grants its Public Service Award to individuals and groups that have contributed substantially to increasing public understanding of science and engineering. NSB is recognizing Hammack for his outstanding skills as communicator. He has authored numerous books and produced hundreds of hours of radio and video segments that explain engineering in plain language to a wide variety of audiences worldwide. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers and the videos that he has produced there have been viewed nearly seventy million times. 

His work has been credited with helping a new generation experience and understand engineering as a creative profession. He uses clear, accessible but technically accurate language to excite audiences about topics as mundane and miraculous as disposable diapers, microwave ovens and tape dispensers.

“I am absolutely thrilled to be honored by the National Science Board,” said Hammack. “I love science and opening people to the amazing engineering feats that fill our everyday lives is a passion for me. To be awarded for doing something that I love this much is really wonderful.” 

Hammack is a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. He chose to work at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign because the university offered him the possibility to do research, teach, and communicate with the public about the science he found so intriguing. He wrote commentaries for Illinois Public Radio on “Engineering and Life” that were also played on public radio shows like Marketplace. About ten years ago he began using YouTube to produce short video segments as “The Engineer Guy.”

Each semester, his course “The Hidden World of Engineering” is offered to a diverse mix of students majoring in commerce, architecture, photography, history, and graphic arts, and gives students an appreciation for how engineers think. 

“Dr. Hammack is one of the world’s polymaths,” said Maureen Condic, Chair of the 2020 NSB Honorary Awards Subcommittee. “He is both a gifted scientist and a gifted educator who knows how to entertain and inform a wide variety of people on incredibly technical topics. He opens a window into understanding for those who are not engineers or scientists, and he seems to have a lot of fun doing it. Getting the public interested in science this way is a huge public service.” 

Since 1992 Hammack has been recognized for his work through fellowships and awards for both his science and for his science communications. He earned what is sometimes called the “trifecta” of science journalism: The Science in Society Award from the National Association of Science Writers (2002); the Grady-Stack Award from the American Chemical Society (2004); and the Science Writing Award from the American Institute of Physics (2004). In 2019 he received the Council of Scientific Society Presidents’ Carl Sagan Award for the Public Appreciation of Science and in 2020 received the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' Ralph Coats Roe Medal.

Later this week, the NSB will announce additional 2021 Honorary awardees, and on May 18, 2021 at 4 p.m. EST the NSB will hold a special virtual ceremony about the winners that will include a celebratory video, showcasing the work of Hammack and other awardees.  The public is invited to attend via YouTube.


Media Contacts

Alison Gillespie, National Science Board, 703-292-2557, algilles@nsf.gov

Claire Benjamin, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 217-244-0941, claire@illinois.edu


About the National Science Board

The NSB and NSF’s Director jointly head the agency. The Board identifies issues critical to NSF's future and establishes its policies. The NSB also provides the President and Congress with Science and Engineering Indicators, a biennial report on U.S. progress in science and technology. Members are appointed by the President for six-year terms and are selected for their eminence in research, education and records of distinguished service.

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2022 budget of $8.8 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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