Tag Archives: Nobel Prize

Creative science writing

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.

Stocker says:

“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?’

Wojnar says

“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 epub (2MB)

SHIFT .mobi (2MB)

See also: Wellington woman wins Manhire Prize for creative science fiction writing

Marie Curie Lecture Series – 2011

The Year of Chemistry 2011 site is providing information on local activities.

Marie Curie:Credit The Science Channel

The Marie Curie Lecture Series is worth looking forward to. These will run throughout 2011 and will be located around New Zealand. Female chemists will be reflecting on how chemistry affects and improves our lives and our society.

The series will be launched in Wellington with a talk by Professor Margaret Brimble, 2007 L’Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science Laureate:

Title: Exploring Nature’s Medicine Chest

When: Thursday 24 February 2011 at 6pm

Where: The Marae, Te Papa Museum, Wellington

The Year of Chemistry 2011 site describes the talk:

The intricate chemistry of nature has evolved over millions of years and we are in the exciting position to be able to recreate and craft the compounds that already exist in the world, in the laboratory. Professor Margaret Brimble’s research explores such possibilities and how we can best use these discoveries to create new medicines. Her lecture will showcase how natural products derived from microorganisms that live in extreme environments, and natural products produced by algal blooms, can be harnessed to develop novel anticancer, antibacterial and antiviral drugs and drugs to treat neurodegenerative diseases.

“Exploring Nature’s Medicine Chest” is also the opening of the Marie Curie Lecture Series, a year- long national tour of talks by female New Zealand chemists in honour of Curie’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her ground-breaking studies in radium and polonium.

Thanks to:  Marie Curie Lecture Series | International Year of Chemistry.

Sharing a chemical moment

I must admit when I read the headline “Women Sharing a Chemical Moment in Time” my mental image didn’t include scientists. I guess that indicates that different popular meaning given to the word “chemical.” But, in reality all our moments are chemical, aren’t they?

This is an invitation to local women chemists to a function kicking off the International Year of Chemistry. And why especially women? Well this year is the centenary of Marie Curie’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. (She had already received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903).


You are invited to breakfast at the Southern Cross Bar, 39 Abel Smith Street, Wellington On Tuesday 18th January from 8:00 am

To mark the start of the International Year of Chemistry. A major theme of IYC2011 is Women in Chemistry because this is the centenary of Marie Curie’s Nobel Prize.

Please RSVP attendance to Joanne.Harvey@vuw.ac.nz

For the breakfast/brunch menu, see http://www.thecross.co.nz/menus

This is the first major event of the International Year of Chemistry 2011

– a worldwide breakfast for women in chemistry next Tuesday the 18th of January. New Zealand, of course, gets to kick it off so this is an exciting opportunity to network with others in your local area as well as initiating an international celebration. When we finish our breakfast, we will hand over (a “chemical handshake” via Skype) to Australia, and so on as each country partakes.

Looks like fun.

See also:
Year of Chemistry 20011. New Zealand’s focus on the International Year of Chemistry.
More information at IYC website Women Sharing a Chemical Moment in Time.

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Move over – old fellow!

As a kid I used to enjoy running. Even competed a bit. But this morning I was reminded of an incident from one of my competitions where I was in a 1 mile race – and doing quite well. Suddenly, as I passed one of the other competitors, who obviously fancied himself a bit, he grabbed me and tried to prevent me from passing.

Well, sometimes I think the relationship between science and religion is a bit like this. Almost always religion will take a conservative stance and will work hard to criticise or prevent scientific advances. This is particularly cruel when these advances enhance our quality of life. One calls to mind things like contraception, anesthetics for childbirth, etc. And fertility assistance.

So here’s how the Catholic church reacts to news of the Nobel Prize to British in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) pioneer Robert Edwards (see Vatican official criticises Nobel win for IVF pioneer):

Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said the award ignored the ethical questions raised by the fertility treatment. Mr Carrasco, the Vatican’s spokesman on bio-ethics, did admit IVF had been “a new and important chapter in the field of human reproduction”.

But he said the Nobel prize committee’s choice of Prof Edwards had been “completely out of order” as without his treatment, there would be no market for human eggs “and there would not be a large number of freezers filled with embryos in the world”, he told Italy’s Ansa news agency.

“In the best of cases they are transferred into a uterus but most probably they will end up abandoned or dead, which is a problem for which the new Nobel prize winner is responsible.”

But this is milder than some of the Vatican’s previous criticisms (see Vatican Aide Says Medicine Nobel Winner Opened `Important’ Human Chapter at the Bloomberg News):

The Roman Catholic Church had condemned embryonic stem cell research and artificial fertilization, most definitively in a 2008 bioethics document released a month after Barack Obama was elected the U.S. president.

IVF violates “the sacred and inviolable character of every human life from its conception until its natural death,” according to the document, entitled “Dignitas Personae” or Latin for “The Dignity of a Person.”

*Declaration of interest: A very early photo of one of my grandchildren

No mention of the nearly four million babies which have been born using IVF fertility treatment since 1978. Or the happiness this has brought to parents (and grandparents*) – and as Grant from Code for Life points out “the wider family.”

And ignoring completely the huge loss of embryos which occur naturally all the time.

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Different ways of knowing?

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roveplatoIn discussions with  religious apologists we often hear the claim that “there are different ways of knowing!” This is often used as a counter to science. It amounts to claiming knowledge which is not based on evidence and not testable against reality.In many cases it’s a defensive argument, a retreat. It’s claiming a logic or justification for the theist belief without allowing the normal checking that should go with knowledge claims. That’s OK –  if it is just personal justification. We all do that from time to time.

However, sometimes religious apologists will go on the offensive with this argument. They use it to justify a knowledge claim that conflicts with scientific knowledge. In fact, they will use it to claim they have access to knowledge which is more reliable than scientific knowledge.

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