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 .
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. .
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. .
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."
The prizes were given for the following pieces of work:
 The award-winning article by Katia Moskvitch is entitled “Red-hot Chile peepers: How to make a very large telescope (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17445688 (link opens in a new window)), which was published online in the technology news section of the BBC website.
 The first runner-up prize was awarded to the article “Hunting ripples in the fabric of space" (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/apr/15/gravitational-waves-search-breakthrough (link opens in a new window)) by Robin Mckie that was published in the Discover Physics section of The Observer, the printed edition.
 The second runner-up prize was granted to the article “Transit Fans” (http://www.newscientist.com/info/in216?full=true (link opens in a new window)) by Maggie Mckee, which was published in the printed version of the weekly magazine New Scientist, as well as on NewScientist.com.
The UK in astronomy and physics
*The UK plays a lead role in both particle physics and astronomy and is ranked number one in the world for astronomy, as measured by the number of citations of research papers across the G8 in scientific journals in 2010.
Interest in physics and astronomy continues to grow. Applications for physics courses at university in 2010/11 were up by more than 17% on the previous year and in astronomy, by 40%.
An image of the Very Large Telescope and Paranal can be found on ESO’s website: http://www.eso.org/public/images/archive/category/paranal/ (link opens in a new window)
STFC Press Officer
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Tel: +44 (0)1235 445627
Oana Sandandu Education and Public Outreach ESO
Tel: +49 89 320 069 65
Dr Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035
Association of British Science Writers
Mob: +44 (0)771 939 0958
European Southern Observatory
The year 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive astronomical observatory. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries.
ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence.
ESO is currently planning a 40-metre-class European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”. http://www.eso.org/public (link opens in a new window)
Royal Astronomical Society
The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS (link opens in a new window)), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organises scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3500 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.
Association of British Science Writers
Founded in 1947, the ABSW is the professional organisation for science writers in the UK. Its 800 members write everything from news stories to books and TV programmes. It runs the UK’s science journalism awards, holds the UK Conference of Science Journalists, and helps entrants to the profession to expand their skills. It is a leading member of the World Federation of Science Journalists and is involved in promoting science journalism in the developing world. More at http://www.absw.org.uk/