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Society Alumnus Al Swank Gives a Special Award at Intel ISEF

By Caitlin Jennings, Communications Specialist, Society for Science & the Public

Al Swank as an Intel ISEF finalist in the 1960s.
Al Swank as an Intel ISEF finalist in the 1960s.
Photo courtesy of Society for Science & the Public.

When Al Swank (ISEF 1967, 1968), was contacted earlier this year by Society for Science & the Public with a request to judge at Intel ISEF, he decided not only would he volunteer, he’d start a new Special Award. “Everything just kind of clicked at that point,” he says, explaining that often in life we are so caught up with our overwhelming day-to-day tasks that we forget what is really important to us. To him, the most important things are teaching and “giving any way I can to youth.”

Al heads Langdon Engineers & Scientific Services, which designs and engineers experimental physics apparatuses and accelerators. Fittingly, the Albert Langdon Swank Experimental Physics Award is awarded to an Intel ISEF Finalist who has an exemplary experimental physics project. Adam Bowman, 15, from Nashville, Tennessee, won the first award of 2011 for his project, “The Construction of a Small Dense Plasma Focus Using a Novel Experimental Setup.”

“It’s not just an award,” Al says.  While Adam received a $5,000 scholarship, he is also receiving something potentially more valuable, advice from Al, who continues to talk with and mentor Adam and plans to do the same with future recipients of the award. “I’ll be back every year, giving the award,” Al says. He gave the award in memory of his father, Albert L. Swank, Senior, and former Society chair and Nobel Laureate Glen Seaborg, because both, as teachers, helped and encouraged many students throughout their lives.

Al Swank as an Intel ISEF finalist in the 1960s.
Al Swank as an Intel ISEF finalist in the 1960s. PHOTO COURTESY OF SOCIETY FOR SCIENCE & THE PUBLIC.

Seaborg also presented Al with the Atomic Energy Commission Award twice at ISEF in 1967 and 1968, and spent additional time with Al and encouraged him to continue pursuing scientific knowledge, especially within experimental physics. Al hopes that he can pass on that same encouragement and also instill that there are many possible mental process pathways of reasoning, logic, interpretation, and methods of project/problem resolutions to the recipients of this award.  If successful, Al believes that they will then continue to strive and gain a more fulfilling and open lifelong knowledge and success in their chosen profession.

Al says, of both his times at ISEF, as a Finalist in the 1960s and more recently as a Judge: “I consider it the number one most rewarding thing I’ve done for myself. People don’t understand that, unless they’ve been through it.”