MacArthur Fellows Program

Shawn Carlson

Science Educator | Class of 1999

Science Educator
Aurora, Illinois
39 at time of award
Published July 1, 1999

About Shawn's Work

Shawn Carlson is a physicist and an educator who works to make the scientific process less mystifying and more comprehensible to nonscientists.

Through his dissemination of inexpensive experiments, many designed by Carlson himself, he demonstrates that scientific research is a quest to understand natural phenomena in which everyone can participate. He gained early attention with a controlled scientific study of astrological predictions. The resulting manuscript, published in Nature, found that astrological charts do not outperform random guesses in predicting personality characteristics. In 1994, Carlson founded the Society for Amateur Scientists, which identifies opportunities for curious amateurs to investigate important, but as yet unsolved, scientific questions and to provide a forum for the organization of amateur research projects. As author of the “Amateur Scientist” column for the Scientific American, Carlson features innovative and inexpensive designs for equipment and experiments that amateurs can use to explore current research questions.


Carlson is the executive director of the Society for Amateur Scientists and an adjunct professor in physics at San Diego State University. He has authored and edited a number of CD-ROMs that explore core concepts in physics and problem-solving techniques.

Shawn Carlson received a B.S. (1981) in applied mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. (1989) in nuclear physics from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Recent News

Carlson is currently based in San Diego and is the executive director of Engagement Education, through which he leads the LabRats Science Education Program. He has authored and edited several books on core STEM concepts and problem-solving techniques.



Updated May 2020

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