Time travel takes the prize for best Australian Science writing

Former Cosmos science journalist Lauren Fuge has won this year’s Bragg Prize. Fuge’s story “Time travel and tipping points” which began with an exploration of fossils in the Flinders Ranges, was published last year in Cosmos Magazine Issue 91.

The UNSW Press Bragg Prize for Science Writing was established in 2012. Each year, an annual prize of $7,000 is awarded to the best short non-fiction science piece aimed at a general audience. Two runners up are awarded $1,500 each. 

Cosmos is Australia’s last long form science magazine. Funding from eminent scientist and entrepreneur Alan Finkel gave the magazine its start in the early 2000s. It’s now published by the not-for-profit Royal Institution of Australia, based in Adelaide.

Fuge has been associated with Cosmos for many years, first as an intern, later a feature writer and – from 2020 until early this year – as a staff science journalist, in which capacity she created content for the daily and weekly online publications as well as the quarterly magazine.

Fuge is now undertaking a PhD in creative writing at UniSA, studying climate change communication through literature. She believes science writing is a way to not only convey the wonder and excitement of scientific discovery to non-scientists, “…but also to use science to explore larger ideas that influence our lives. Through telling stories about science, science writing can perhaps even change the way people see the world.”

“We’re now in a time of great upheaval and uncertainty, when we must build a more just and liveable world while we’re in the grips of complex societal and environmental problems.

“Science itself is an important tool in doing this, as it plays a huge role in all kinds of policies and personal decisions that shape our lives, from transforming our energy systems to ensuring food security to responding to public health crises.

“Now more than ever, science must be integrated into policymaking.” (Today’s interview with Lauren Fuge)

Every day science is making the world better

Cosmos Magazine Senior Editor Gail MacCallum lauds the Bragg Prize and its associated annual collection Best Australian Science Writing for getting people to think about science.

“Every day, everywhere, science is making our world better,” MacCallum says. “It’s always been the case, but perhaps the pandemic has brought into the foreground the sheer effort and volume of research required and the importance to our futures of its effort.

“What people may think of less is how exciting the work of science is – solving puzzles, improvising devices, exploring high and low and from atoms to the birth of the universe. And scientists – the perfect combination of smart and funny – are our guides on these adventures, which are happening right here, right now somewhere not too far from all of us. It’s an absolute privilege to have the space to tell those stories, and to play with writers – themselves smart and funny – who are our superheroes, finding new ways to excite and inspire me and, I hope, their readers.

“We’re thrilled that alongside Lauren, pieces published in Cosmos by Jacinta Bowler, Elizabeth Finkel and Kelly Wong have been included in Best Australian Science Writing.

“But special mention for Lauren. Working with her is a pleasure of some measure and her ability to consider complex science and connect it intimately to our lives is awe-inspiring. This piece – which links tectonic plates, naming and deep time and why all of these are critical to our near future – certainly changed my world, and I hope other readers as well. My co-editor Ian Connellan and I can’t wait to see where Lauren takes us next, and next, and next …

“Science writing’s more than information, it’s a journey to the edge of the known world and beyond. Each year, the Bragg Prize and Best Australian Science Writing provide a chance to set sail on the most exciting of adventures with the most thrilling of crews. Long may both continue.”

Another regular contributor to Cosmos, Clare Watson, was among the five shortlisted writers for the Bragg Prize.

Read Lauren’s winning article as it appeared in Cosmos Magazine, Issue 91, Winter 2021

The science writing prize is named in honour of Australia’s first Nobel Laureates, father and son team William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg. The prizes are supported by the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund.

Ivy Shih, Media and Public Relations Adviser for Health and Medicine at the University of Sydney, is this year’s editor of Best Australian Science Writing. She says science writing is the bridge between research and the public.

“It takes a unique set of skills to take technical research and translate it so people can understand what the science is about and its impact on them.

“But excellent science writing stands out when it showcases the purpose of research.”

Shih believes science writing is now making a greater impact: “…especially as the COVID pandemic unfolded and people were being bombarded with new research every day.”

Lyndal Byford, who’s worked at the Australian Science Media Centre for 15 years and is now News Director, says the pandemic has highlighted the role of science journalists in newsrooms, if that reporting has been “independent, and holds truth to power”.

“But there hasn’t been a great increase in the number of specialist science journalists in newsrooms,” she observes. “The Guardian put one on; The Adelaide Advertiser put one off.”

Byford is in favour of science and data journalism being taught in journalism schools, because “so many news stories include science in some way.”

“There are traps for reporters who don’t know the scientific process, and how to question data.”

Best Australian Science Writing this year contains 30 stories. It’s available from next week in print and ebook editions.

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