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Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2017 – winner announced

19 Oct 2017

MRC-funded PhD student Kirstin Leslie from the Institute of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow, has won this year’s Max Perutz Science Writing Award. At the awards ceremony on 19 October, Kirstin received the first prize of £1,500 for her article: “Can big data mend a broken heart?” 

Three runner-up prizes of £400 went to Nadine Mirza from The University of Manchester, Lara Morley from the Leeds Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine, and Sophie Quick from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

The awards were announced by the MRC Chairman and Chair of the judging panel, Donald Brydon CBE, alongside Director of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology and fellow competition judge, Sir Hugh Pelham, and Professor Robin Perutz, son of the late Max Perutz. Commenting on this year’s competition, Mr Brydon said: “Again young scientists have shown they can communicate their passion for science to a wide audience. The standard of entries was very high and the winner strikes just the right chord in tune with our increasingly data-driven world.”

The other judges on this year’s panel included: Dr Claire Ainsworth, freelance journalist and science writer; Philippa Pigache, journalist and science writer; and Andy Ridgway, journalist and Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at the University of the West of England in Bristol.

During the ceremony, Professor Robin Perutz spoke engagingly about the ability of scientific breakthroughs to ‘make the impossible possible’. Reflecting on his father’s innovative work, he spoke about how Max defied the views of experts to prove that X-rays could reveal the structures of biologically important proteins. He also commented on the work of recent Nobel Prize-winner Professor Richard Henderson who helped to advance the technique of electron microscopy to identify the atomic structure of complex proteins, which have been impossible to analyse by traditional X-ray methods.    

Before the ceremony, this year’s shortlisted entrants were invited to attend a science writing masterclass, during which they learnt about the key principles of effective popular-style science writing and had the opportunity to edit each other’s articles. Competition judge Dr Claire Ainsworth, who led the masterclass, said: “It’s hugely encouraging that so many PhD students are inspired to share their research with wider audiences like this, helping to enhance the contribution of science to society and developing a vital skill for their future careers."

Fellow competition judge Andy Ridgway added: “Sometimes you read something and it stays with you for days. It transforms your view of a challenge or issue you were already aware of, or it opens your eyes to one that you were completely oblivious to. Many of the shortlisted entries did this very effectively, demonstrating the importance of the quest for answers that lies at the heart of the research being explained. Good writing inspires, intrigues and changes the readers’ view of the world and these entries show how powerful words on a screen or page can be.”

The Max Perutz Award is in its 20th year and encourages MRC-funded PhD students to communicate their work to a wider audience. Entrants are asked to explain why their research matters in just 800 words. Since the competition started in 1998, over 1,000 researchers have submitted entries and taken their first steps into science communication.

The award is named in honour of one of the UK’s most outstanding scientists and communicators, Dr Max Perutz. Max, who died in 2002, was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and was the founder and first Chairman of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge. Max was also a keen and talented communicator who inspired countless students to use everyday language to share their research with the people whose lives are improved by their work.

All of the short-listed articles are now published (PDF, 1.16MB).


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