Thursday, 21 October 2010

Comic communicator wins science award

A science communicator with a comic touch has won this year’s Joshua Phillips Award for Innovation in Science Engagement (Josh Award). The award will be presented to Steve Cross at MOSI (Museum of Science & Industry) on 28 October as part of the upcoming Manchester Science Festival (23– 31 October 2010).

Steve, who was born in Stockport and is now based in London, is the Head of Public Engagement at UCL (University College London) and helps to develop the skills of scientists to share their work in an accessible and lively way. Steve runs the monthly Bright Club in London – where researchers (including himself) perform comedy routines about science to the club’s mainly non-scientist audience. Topics range from chemistry and climate change, to sex, to astronomy in the style of Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. A Manchester Bright Club based on the same ideas has also opened recently.

Steve’s work, which is part of the national Beacons for Public Engagement project, helps to break down barriers between scientists and members of the public and to inspire people to learn about the everyday relevance of science. He regularly puts out podcasts (with 1500-2000 downloads per week). He also brought together scientists, a writer and bands to create music about the life of a scientist. Science communicators traditionally focus on work with young people, but Steve has also helped researchers to reach out to parents through ‘science soirees,’ held at parents’ evenings to help encourage sceptical parents about the variety and fun of a science career for their child.

Steve said: “I’m really surprised and overjoyed to win the Josh Award. When I was starting out in my career Josh was always pushing the envelope making science enjoyable and interesting in unexpected ways. Putting enjoyment into public engagement is very much at the centre of my ethos and I’m glad that is recognised in this award. With Bright Club we wanted to test the idea that anyone can make their work funny and engaging for a few minutes. We work with researchers to help them develop their own style of humour to deliver their work. So we end up with scientists with a delivery style that can be dry, witty, camp or fun, depending on the individual. It’s all about how to connect with your audience.”

Manchester Science Festival director Natalie Ireland said: “I’m delighted to announce Steve as this year’s Josh Award winner. He has used some fantastically innovative methods to engage people with science who may not normally be interested, and has helped to develop the skills of hundreds of scientists to present their work in an accessible and fun way. This is really the spirit of the Manchester Science Festival and we are already discussing ideas about what to do with next year’s festival.”

From chemical explosions to the science of circus acts, the Josh Award is open to anyone in Britain involved in using creative ideas to make science inspiring and relevant to a mainstream audience. Previous winners for 2007, 2008 and 2009 include Naked Scientist radio presenter doctor Chris Smith, science communicator Karen Bultitude and science communicator David Price of science made simple. The award is now in its fourth year.

The Josh Award is named after Josh Phillips, who was MOSI’s first science communication officer, and died in a road accident in November 2006. Josh was renowned for his innovative and fun approach to getting people of all ages interested in science. The Award includes a cash prize of £1000 and a trophy and the role of science communication officer in residence for the Manchester Science Festival 2011.

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