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First European Astronomy Journalism Prize Winners Announced

September 5, 2012
Image Caption: Prize winner for excellence Robin McKie, overall winner Katia Moskvitch and highly commended Maggie McKee. Credit: ESO

The winner of the first European Astronomy Journalism Prize, designed to help inspire the next generation of researchers has been announced today (5 September 2012) at a reception in the House of Commons. Katia Moskvitch from the BBC was announced as the winner and awarded a trip to Chile, by a panel of judges representing the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) who ran the competition, together with the Royal Astronomical Society and the Association of British Science Writers.

The aim of the prize was to increase media coverage of astronomy, a means to promoting the wonders of astronomy – a subject regularly cited as a key reason for students opting to take up careers in science.  The judges chose Katia as the winner, for her remarkable series on ESO´s Very Large Telescope located in Paranal Observatory, Chile [1].

Katia´s prize was announced at a reception primarily held to celebrate the UK´s involvement in the Large Hadron Collider after the recent discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs Boson (link opens in a new window). The UK plays a lead role in both particle physics and astronomy and is ranked number one in the world for astronomy*.

Katia said: “As a technology journalist at the BBC, I don’t get to write about astronomy very often. That’s why I really loved my time in Chile, reporting about the telescopes in ESO´s observatories, and learning a lot of new things about space and technology. After I had written my features, I received really good feedback from readers, and a colleague urged me to enter this competition. I was quite surprised but very happy when I found out I won!”
A special prize for excellence also went to Robin McKie from the Observer newspaper for his work on British involvement in the search for gravitational waves. [2].

The judges highly commended Maggie McKee from Boston, Massachusetts, for an article in New Scientist on European involvement in the study of the Transit of Venus. [3].

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: “Media coverage is an important way of conveying the wonder of science to the public and making complex research easier to understand. It´s great to see such high quality, engaging journalism being recognised today. I have no doubt it will have played some part in encouraging the next generation to take up astronomy, helping to maintain the UK´s leading position in this field.”

Katia Moskvitch will be ESO´s guest at the inauguration of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in the Chilean Atacama desert next March 2013.

Robin McKie will take up his prize of a visit to the Very Large Telescope later this year and Maggie McKee´s prize is a trip to the UK from the US where she is based — visiting some of the UK´s leading science facilities including STFC´s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, The UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh and the University of Manchester´s Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre.

Professor John Womersley, STFC Chief Executive said: “The media are vital partners in spreading the inspirational message of astronomy – and of other science fields – and it´s in all our interests to work together with the media to encourage more, and higher quality, coverage. The quality of the journalism being acknowledged here today is exceptional – we need more like this, to help inspire the next generation of much needed future scientists”.

Lars Lindberg Christensen, Head of the Education and Public Outreach Department at ESO said: “We would like to congratulate all participants and especially the winners for their outstanding work of promoting European astronomy. We hope such recognition will stimulate more coverage of Europe’s leading contributions to the field of astronomy and bring these results closer to the public.”

Due to the success of the competition it will run again next year. Details will be announced on the STFC and ESO websites in due course: http://www.stfc.ac.uk/astroprize (link opens in a new window) and www.eso.org/public/astroprize/

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Source: Science and Technology Facilities Council