New prize for journalism aims to change perceptions of physics

4 October 2012

In a year that has already seen the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle and the landing on Mars of the Curiosity Rover the opportunities for the media to raise awareness of amazing science has never been greater.

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To celebrate the work of science journalists and their importance in promoting contemporary scientific ideas and discoveries today sees the launch of a new prize for physics journalism. The prize offers the opportunity of an expenses paid trip to Japan, to visit world-leading facilities carrying out research at the frontiers of physics.

The prize is for a work of journalism which is published or broadcast, and which is accessible to the general public. Eligible articles will cover physics research and related areas of technology, the working lives of physicists, engineers or other people working in physics, the application of physics in industry, or interdisciplinary research linking physics and other scientific disciplines. The aim of the prize is to increase the amount of great physics coverage in the media and hopefully lead to an increase in the number of stories that can inspire the next generation of physicists.

The prize is sponsored jointly by the Institute of Physics (IOP) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

STFC Chief Executive Professor John Womersley said: “A major influence on everyone’s perception of physics is of course the media. We are lucky to have many excellent science journalists in the UK. But we want to use this competition to encourage even more coverage, especially by new young writers who can help inspire the next generation of budding physicists.”

Speaking at the Institute’s annual awards ceremony, IOP President Professor Sir Peter Knight linked the new award to the shocking statistics on girls’ participation in physics, published earlier on 3 October in the report It’s Different for Girls. He said: “It’s simply unacceptable that nearly half of all co-ed maintained schools in England do not put a single girl forward for A-level physics. We all need to work together to tackle this inequity.

“We know that there are many different factors involved, but one is almost certainly girls’ perception of physics, which is clearly influenced by its portrayal in the media. We hope that this new award will encourage journalists to highlight the excitement and relevance of physics in the modern world.”

One of the judges of the competition is STEMNET Chief Executive Kirsten Bodley. Kirsten and her team work with thousands of businesses and schools across the UK to inspire young people in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Kirsten sees the competition as ‘a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the incredible research being undertaken within the physics community at present and at the same time offering young people a chance to see just how amazing and inspiring contemporary physics research can be. Hopefully a few more young people will read these stories and realise that a future in physics research could be for them. It is not about boffins but about smart people pushing the boundaries of scientific research.’

The IOP-STFC Physics Journalism Prize complements the European Astronomy Journalism Prize, whose first winner – the BBC’s Katia Moskvitch – was announced on 5 September.

STFC collaborates with Japanese institutions on a number of ground-breaking projects in Japan including JPARC’s T2K experiment, which directs a beam of neutrinos 295 kms underground across Japan, and its world-class spallation neutron source and the Riken Institute in Tokyo which has just announced the discovery of element 113.

View the terms and conditions of the IOP-STFC Prize for Physics Journalism on the STFC website



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