They funded me with science

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Science featured strongly as a theme of this year’s AMP Do Your Thing scholarships which each year see grants totaling more than $200,000 dished out. A nanotech researcher, a climate scientists and a robotics expert were among the 12 selected from over 1,400 entrants. Wellington-based science communicator and Idealog writer Peter Griffin also picked up a grant, which he will use to showcase some of the country’s best science writing aimed at a general audience.

Griffin heads up the Science Media Centre, which acts as a bridge between scientists and the media, and also runs, Australasia’s largest science blog network that features 30 scientists blogging about everything from forensics and physics to climate change and natural hazards. The AMP scholarship will go towards what Griffin hopes will be an annual anthology of the best New Zealand science writing in book form.

“Since we set up Sciblogs in October 2009, our bloggers have posted over 3,000 articles,” he says. “Some of them are fantastic pieces of work, so we want to collect the best of Sciblogs and the best science features that appeared in the mainstream media in 2010 and put them out out as a sort of anthology of New Zealand science writing.

“It sounds a bit weird taking blog content and publishing it as a book, but similar science writing anthologies in the US, such as the long-running Open Laboratory series, have done incredibly well and exposed those writers to a new audience that isn’t necessarily engaged in the blogosphere.”

The book is set for launch in April next year while Sciblogs contributors will feature in a series on Radio New Zealand over the summer. Griffin says the media’s appetite for covering science has picked up since the Science Media Centre was founded in June 2008. That’s on the back of an increased focus on research and development, which the government is hoping will help New Zealand catch up with similarly sized countries that invest much more in science, the high-proifle of the prime minister’s chief science advisor, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, and a string of newsworthy science-related stories.

“Some of the biggest stories of the year also had strong science angles,” says Griffin. “From the Canterbury earthquake and the disaster at Pike River to the debates over mining the conservation estate and whether to lower the blood alcohol limit or not, the science element was very important and there was a high demand in the media for scientists who could explain the science succinctly.”

The Science Media Centre recently had its funding from the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology extended for a further three-year period and was increasingly taking on an international profile with SMCs launching this year in Canada and Japan to join a network that already includes Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

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