By NANCY VAN VALKENBURG
OGDEN -- Weber State physics professor Adam Johnston expected nothing but a helpful speech a few weeks back when he invited former student Matt Smith to address his class.
But Smith, a 2002 Weber State physics grad now teaching science at a Salt Lake City charter school, had a whole different agenda in mind.
"Adam invited a few teachers up to talk to his pre-
service teaching students about what to expect," Smith said. "When he introduced me and said I would talk next, I said, 'I will do that, but first can you come up here?' And that's when I told him he had won the Governor's Medal."
On Friday, the official announcement was made. Johnston, nominated by Smith, was one of 10 winners of the Governor's Medals for Science and Technology. Johnston won in the science education category.
"The students were kind of surprised, since they really didn't know what was going on and it was pretty out of place from what was expected," Smith said, recalling his WSU classroom visit. "Everybody applauded. Adam looked shocked, but happy. He gave me a big hug. There may have been a tear in his eye. I couldn't tell for sure."
"The whole process was kept secret from me," Johnston said Friday. "I didn't even know I had been nominated."
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert sent a statement on the awards.
"Utah was built on a heritage of innovation. We have the pleasure of recognizing the leaders who strengthen this foundation," he said. "The tireless efforts of these innovative individuals continue to accelerate Utah's economy."
Smith said Johnston's major contributions to his field, and to Utah, include:
* Co-founding the Science Education at the Crossroads Conference, which brings together scientists, teachers and scholars for short presentations and small group discussions on how to solve problems.
"It's more conversation than convention," Smith said. "It's an amazing experience, and it exposed me to so many new ideas and ways of thinking about problems I'd seen."
* Founding Science in the Parks, a summer program that presents free science activities and demonstrations in a different Ogden park each week, aligning itself with the Ogden School District free lunch program.
"They do science and involve kids who wouldn't normally be exposed to science in the summer," Smith said. "And that's just something Adam does in his spare time, as a volunteer."
* Reaching out to students and teachers around the region and state, to offer various programs and presentations.
Johnston said he was especially honored to be one of the 10 selected for Governor's Medals when he saw the other nine names on the list.
"The other people on the list are really important people around the state," he said. "It's just an exciting celebration of the work a lot of people are doing.
"I'm pleased that Governor Herbert has put science education to the forefront of his priorities," Johnston said. "I hope he will continue to encourage that, and see science as something we focus on, not just because it makes our economy better and gives us a bigger workforce.
"Science inspires curiosity and it empowers citizens to understand their world and take control of it. I would like to see more science integrated into the classroom. It frees people to do a lot of exciting work. It doesn't have to be sitting in a classroom, poring over books. Science is something that should be actively investigated and fostered."
And there's one more thing Johnston would like to say if he gets a chance to talk with the governor.
"We'd like a new science building at Weber State, hopefully before this one falls down. But we will get there."
Here's the complete list of winners, who will be honored at a Jan. 17 gala at the Discovery Gateway children's museum:
* Thure Cerling, University of Utah professor of geology and geophysics, for "advancing geological, hydrological and nuclear waste science in Utah."
* David Kieda, U of U professor and department chairman of physics, for pioneering techniques for observing high-energy cosmic rays.
* Geraldine Mineau, U of U and Huntsman Cancer Institute investigator and research professor of oncological sciences, for developing a one-of-a-kind genetic research tool for human disease.
* Johnston, noted as founder of Science Education at the Crossroads.
* Amy Pace, Open High School of Utah department of science chairwoman, noted for science curriculum development.
* Theodore Stanley, managing director of Upstart and founder of Anesta and ZARS. The Stanley Research Foundation has donated more than $5 million to the University of Utah and other universities.
* Ceramatec, noted as a pioneer in research and development in oxygen and hydrogen generation systems.
* Ted McAleer, Utah Science Technology and Research initiative (USTAR) executive director, noted for taking USTAR from an idea to a fully functioning innovation driver for Utah's economy.
* Nicole Toomey Davis, CEO of Enclavix LLC and former director of the Centers of Excellence Program/Technology Commercialization and Innovation Program.
* Scott Anderson, Zions Bank president and CEO, noted for creating more high-paying jobs in Utah and for his help in creating the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative.