Space scientist wins Royal Society award for science communication

24 August 2009

Space scientist Dr Lucie Green from University College London (UCL) has been awarded the prestigious Royal Society Kohn award for her work engaging a diverse audience with science, it was announced today (24 August 2009).

Dr Green receives the award for her leadership in building up a first-class programme of engagement, communication and outreach projects at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) at UCL over ten years. Her achievements include mentoring scientists within her department in public engagement and changing the overall culture of her department and university to encourage public engagement with science work. One example of Lucie's work in changing UCL culture was her major contribution to UCL being recognised as one of six Beacons for Public Engagement by the UK Funding Councils, Research Councils UK and Wellcome Trust.

The judging panel was particularly impressed by Dr Green's work on the Satellite Stories project, which brought members of communities living around MSSL into the labs for the first time. Local people were given a forum to share their feelings about living near such an active research institution. Staff took time to talk to local people and to listen to their views on research and the history and culture of MSSL. The MSSL is now planning a similar event for next year which local people will have full control over.

Dr Green is a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow working on the study of coronal mass ejections (CMEs). These events are huge expulsions of magnetised plasma from the Sun's atmosphere and are seen as clouds of outward moving material when the Sun is eclipsed. Dr Green studies their magnetic source regions with a view to understanding the changes in the Sun's magnetic field which trigger them.

She was the national co-ordinator for all outreach activities for International Heliophysical Year (2007-2008), a United Nations sponsored program of scientific collaboration to understand the external drivers of planetary environments and universal processes in solar-terrestrial-planetary-heliospheric physics. She promoted the UK's research in solar system science and associated space mission involvement to members of the public and professionals.  This project directly reached over 21,000 school students and 45,000 other people through events culminating in a touring exhibition that began at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2007.

Dr Green said:

"As a scientist I feel that public engagement is a vital part of my day-to-day life and fundamental to the role of a university.

As well as being an important part of our culture, public engagement with science provides many benefits to the scientist, their host institution and the audience through discussing research in an inclusive way.

I'm extremely pleased to receive this award which highlights both the Royal Society's commitment to this important area and UCL's valuable contribution to the cultural life of London."

Dr Peter Cotgreave, Director of Public Affairs at the Royal Society said:

"We are delighted to be awarding Dr Lucie Green the Royal Society Kohn Award. She is a shining example of how one person's determination can change an entire institution's approach to public engagement.

 More than ever before, the general public needs to know the importance of science and the solutions it may hold to some of our generation's biggest challenges.

Dr Green is a fantastic ambassador for science and her efforts to encourage other scientists to engage with the public make her a very worthy recipient of this award."

As the winner of the 2009 Royal Society Kohn Award for Excellence in Engaging the Public with Science, Dr Lucie Green receives a prize of £2,500, a grant of £7,500 for science communication activities and a silver gilt medal. The award is generously supported by the Kohn Foundation.