A PhD student at the University of Cambridge has won the final of a national competition to encourage scientists to explore the social and ethical implications of their research. Sarah Collins, 23, a student in the Department of Earth Sciences, impressed the judges with the presentation of her poster on volcanic eruptions at the competition final at the prestigious BA Festival of Science, held in Norwich earlier this month.
Sarah was competing in Perspectives, a national competition for young researchers, organised by Research Councils UK. Competitors had been whittled down through a series of regional heats before the finalists presented their posters and discussed their research with the public during the Festival. Sarah asked visitors to consider the benefits and dangers for people living near volcanoes and discussed with them what scientists are trying to learn from studying eruptions.
Sarah said: "I spent a hugely enjoyable few days in Norwich and the competition created a great opportunity for me to discuss the importance of studying volcanoes with the public and to think about my research in a much broader context. My research is funded by the public through the Natural Environment Research Council and I feel it is important to engage with the public and discuss what their tax pounds are being spent on and why."
Jessica Adams, 26, a PhD student at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research in Aberystwyth, was voted the Perspectives 'people's choice' by Festival visitors for her poster on bioethanol and the role this could play in reducing emissions, tackling climate changes and reducing the country's reliance on foreign oil.
Jessica, who is supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, said: "I really enjoyed spending the week at the BA Festival of Science attending lectures on a range of diverse subjects and meeting so many people. When presenting my poster, I entered into many interesting discussions on my research and its implications with the public. I am delighted that so many visitors to the Festival voted for my poster to become the people's choice."
The competition, organised and sponsored by Research Councils UK, was designed to give young researchers the opportunity to gain the skills and experience needed to discuss the social implications of their research - something that all scientists are now asked to do. The winner of the competition received £750 and 2 runners-up received £350 each. The winner of the 'people's choice award', given to the researcher whose poster received the most votes from visiting members of the public, received £350.
Professor Ian Diamond is Chair of the Research Councils UK Executive Group. He commented: "The Research Councils together invest over £2.5 billion a year of the UK taxpayer's money in cutting edge research and training. It is hugely important that scientists engage with the public, talk about their research and enter into a dialogue to understand public views. The Perspectives competition gives young researchers the chance to learn the communications skills that will help them throughout their scientific careers. I would like to congratulate not only Sarah for winning but everyone who took part for their effort and genuine enthusiasm.&qout;
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Notes to Editors
Perspectives was open for applications from May 2006. 35 young scientists were selected to take part and attended workshops in July held at the Dana Centre in London.
The posters were displayed at the BA Festival of Science at the University of East Anglia, 2-9 September. The BA Festival of Science is one of the UK's biggest science festivals. It attracts 400 of the best scientists and science communicators from home and abroad who reveal the latest developments in research to a general audience.
The researchers answered questions from members of the public, researchers and the media at several sessions during the week.
The judging panel was made up of prominent scientists and science communicators.
About Research Councils UK
The eight Research Councils are independent non-departmental public bodies, funded by the Science Budget through the Office of Science and Innovation. They are incorporated by Royal Charter and together manage a research budget of over £2.5 billion a year.
Research Councils UK (RCUK) is the partnership between the UK's eight Research Councils. Through RCUK, the Research Councils work together to champion the research, training and innovation they support.
RCUK was created to increase the collective visibility, leadership and policy influence of the Research Councils; to stimulate multi-disciplinary research that encourages collaboration; to provide a single focus for collective dialogue with stakeholders and to encourage greater harmonisation of internal operations.
The partnership is led by the RCUK Executive Group, which meets monthly and comprises the chief executives of the eight Research Councils. The Group is currently chaired by Professor Ian Diamond, Chief Executive of the Economic and Social Research Council.
The Research Councils UK Science in Society Unit provides a gateway to the science in society activities of the Research Councils, manages cross-council programmes and underpinds the individual work within each Council.
The eight UK Research Councils are:
- Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC);
- Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC);
- Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC);
- Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC);
- Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC);
- Medical Research Council (MRC);
- Natural Environment Research Council (NERC);
- Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council (PPARC).