This weekend the Royal Society announced the winners of the New Zealand Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing.
There are two categories, fiction and non-fiction, and this year entrants were asked to write about chemistry and our world. This is to commemorate the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Marie Curie in 1911 and to celebrate a hundred years of the contribution of chemistry to the well-being of humanity.
Radium – A Love Story
Both winning writers are chemists and have PhDs. Dr Bridget Stocker, who works at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research in Wellington, wrote the winning fiction piece, Radium – A Love Story. (pdf link) It’s about Marie Curie and told from her point of view.
“I felt compelled to write this story given that I’d taken part in the Marie Curie lecture series by the Royal Society of New Zealand, and then been featured on the cover of a chemistry magazine celebrating the life of Marie Curie. That said, I almost didn’t enter because I was running out of time, but I’m glad that I did!”
Historical fiction about scientists from the past is quite popular these days. I think it can serve a useful purpose in providing information about these great scientists in an easily accessible and interesting way.
100% Chemical Free
Dr Joanna Wojnar, from the University of Auckland, won the non-fiction category with 100% Chemical Free. (pdf link) This is about misuse of the term ‘chemical free’. In it he asks: ‘When exactly did chemistry become synonymous with poison, and chemical with toxic?’
“My writing so far has been solely scientific publications in my field. The competition entry therefore was a change in pace for me, but it was quite fun to write as it’s one of my pet peeves. The other one is the misuse of the word ‘organic’, but that’s the topic of another article!”
As a chemist I sympathise completely with Wojnar’s viewpoint. Consumers should react cynically to this form of advertising which just plays on scientific ignorance.
The two winning entries will be published in the New Zealand Listener. But they both can be accessed and downloaded together with all 21 shortlisted entries, from the Royal Society of New Zealand’s website.
Past winning entries
The Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing has been operating in the same format (fiction and non-fiction prizes) since 2007. If you want to read the past winning entries you can download the ebook Shift 2011.
SHIFT PDF (1.4 MB)
SHIFT epub (2MB)
SHIFT .mobi (2MB)
See also: Wellington woman wins Manhire Prize for creative science fiction writing