Story of human regeneration wins international physics journalism prize

January 14th, 2014
This is Cynthia Graber. Credit: None
This year's IOP-STFC Physics Journalism Prize has been awarded to Cynthia Graber for her feature 'Electric Shock: Could electricity be the key to unlocking human regeneration?, published at MATTER.

In the award-winning article, Cynthia, a freelance print and radio journalist based in Massachusetts, investigates the work of Professor Michael Levin, the Director of Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology, to improve our understanding of the role electricity plays in regenerating living cells.

The judges of this year's prize were unanimous in their decision to award the prize to Cynthia, highlighting and praising Cynthia's ability to bring the intrigue of Professor Levin's work to life while still accurately portraying the scientific process.

The judges were particularly delighted to be awarding the prize – designed to inspire the next generation of physicists by encouraging journalists to grapple with often complex topics and help spread excitement about the subject – for an article which highlights the inter-disciplinary nature of physics research.

Professor Dame Athene Donald, an honorary fellow of the Institute of Physics (IOP), Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge and one of the prize's judges, said, "It was a joy to read this intriguing article by Cynthia and it was good to see the winning entry demonstrate such an interesting example from the breadth of issues for which physics is so pertinent.

"Too often physics is thought of as quite a narrow, self-contained subject, instead of as a way of thinking that underpins many other disciplines."

Professor Donald was joined on the judging panel by the editor of HE, Alison Goddard, Martin Ince from the Association of British Science Writers, the Chief Executive of the British Science Association, Imran Khan, and the Head of Communications from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), Terry O'Connor.

Imran Khan added, "Cynthia tells an entertaining story, but also takes the reader on a scientific journey and reveals the nature of how science works – we see decades of intricate research undertaken, and moments of creative and deductive genius along the way.

"I found it especially pleasing that Electric Shock won, as it was a relatively unusual entry. Not only did it appear in an outlet which is exploring a new business model for making science writing sustainable and accessible, the content of the piece also crossed traditional disciplinary boundaries. More like this next year, please!"

On receiving the award, Cynthia responded, "While I don't often report stories that are exclusively about physics, physics has been a primary force in many stories I've written throughout my career, from renewable energy to biology.

"I'm thrilled to be recognized by IOP and STFC for this story, which I believe highlights one of the crucial roles physics plays in our biology. Levin's research demonstrates that surprising new insights can come from bridging two often divided realms."

Founding editor of MATTER, Jim Giles, said, "Science journalists frequently do a good job of explaining new research, but they often overlook something important about the subject they cover: Science is a human endeavor.

"The decisions and insights and mistakes that scientists make are tied to their personalities, as Cynthia's story makes clear. Her story is a superb illustration of how the long-form approach, which is so rarely applied to science, can be used to examine these connections."

Along with receipt of the 2013 trophy, Cynthia will be attending the AAAS meeting in Chicago, the annual meeting of the world's largest general scientific society, and visiting a range of physics facilities in both the US and the UK.

Provided by Institute of Physics

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