Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2018 – Winner announced
25 Oct 2018
MRC-funded PhD student Natasha Clarke, of St George's, University of London, is now £1,500 richer after she won this year’s Max Perutz Science Writing Award. At the awards ceremony on 25 October, Natasha received first prize for her article: “How artificial intelligence, and a cup of tea, could help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease.”
Additional prizes of £750 went to the runner-up Briet Bjarkadottir, of the Nuffield Department of Women’s and Reproductive Health at the University of Oxford, for her article: “Stopping the conveyor belt – cancer and fertility”, and £400 to Fraser Shearer, of the Centre for Cardiovascular Science at the University of Edinburgh, whose article: “Keep calm and carry to term” was commended.
Award-winner Natasha Clarke said: “I’m very excited and absolutely chuffed to have won. I’ve always really enjoyed writing for lay people and I really enjoy trying to make things more easily understandable. It seems like quite a daunting task when you look at a blank piece of paper. You just have to tackle it head on; the words will come.”
The awards were announced by the MRC’s Executive Chair and Chair of the judging panel Professor Fiona Watt, alongside Professor Robin Perutz, son of the late Max Perutz.
Fiona said: “It has been a great pleasure to chair the judging panel of this year’s Max Perutz Award.
“The competition is a great way to highlight to early-career scientists the importance of science communication and to showcase their work. This year we received a record number of entries, from about 10% of MRC-funded PhD students.
“The topics of the winning articles are artificial intelligence and Alzheimer’s disease; cancer and fertility; mental health, depression and stress. I’d like to thank everyone who entered the competition - the judges had a tough time making the selection. Our PhD students do a brilliant job at bringing their research to life – using everyday language, rhetorical devices and personal anecdotes.”
Professor Robin Perutz said: “Max would be really pleased the competition is still going. He was very keen that people engage with science and he enjoyed putting the message across. He’d be really excited that there are so many popular science books and lots of people trying to explain why science matters today.”
The other judges on this year’s panel included: Dr Claire Ainsworth, freelance journalist and science writer; Stephen Curry, journalist and science writer; Andy Ridgway, journalist and Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at the University of the West of England in Bristol; Dr Roger Highfield, MRC Council member and Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum Group and Jennifer Rohn, journalist, novelist and scientist at University College London.
Judge Andy Ridgway said: “What really shone though in the shortlisted entries was the power of telling a relatable, human story when explaining the importance of medical research. By showing how a disease or condition impacts an individual and how this new treatment will change their lives, it conveys the impact of the research in a powerful, engaging way. It was a pleasure to read all the shortlisted entries and there are some gifted writers in the field.”
Before the ceremony the shortlisted entrants had the chance to attend a science writing masterclass, during which they learnt about the principles of effective popular-style science writing and tried their hand at editing each other’s articles.
The Max Perutz Award is now in its 21st 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, more than 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.