University of Dundee

CLS Scientist wins prestigious Max Perutz Science Writing Award

12 Sep 2011

Amy Capes, a PhD student in the Division of Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery at the University of Dundee, has won the Medical Research Council's 2011 Max Perutz Science Writing Award for her article `Putting Sleeping Sickness on the Radar'.

In the piece, she described how her research could prevent the parasite which causes sleeping sickness from evading the immune system of the people it infects. As part of the prize, Amy’s winning article will be published in the Guardian newspaper later this month.
Amy (30), who is from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, said, “I am delighted but quite shocked to have won! The other essays on the shortlist were excellent, so after they had announced the commended finalists and the runner-up, I was sure I was going home empty-handed.”
Amy originally studied Computer Arts the University of Abertay Dundee before going on to do a BSc Hons in Chemistry at Edinburgh University. She is now just finishing a PhD in Medicinal Chemistry at Dundee. 
“I chose to go into science because I felt it offered greater intellectual challenges and more practical applications than art,” said Amy. “Chemistry is particularly beautiful because it relates to everything from tiny organisms to the composition of stars.”
The 2011 Max Perutz competition received over 100 entries from some of the UK’s brightest PhD students, all eager to explain their research to a non-scientific audience. The winner, chosen from a shortlist of 12 essays, was announced at an awards ceremony in London at an event attended by members of the Medical Research Council’s Council, MRC chief executive Sir John Savill, and representatives from across the science community.
Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts, had the opportunity to meet the shortlisted entrants and congratulate them on their success in the competition.
Mr Willetts said, “Communicating research effectively is a vital skill for any scientist, and great science writing helps provide the public with accurate, evidence-based information. I’ve been incredibly impressed by both the standard of the essays and the breadth of topics covered in this competition. The entries are testament to both the entrants' writing ability and their expertise as scientists.”
The distinguished judging panel of scientists and writers comprised Sir John Savill; the Guardian’s science and environment correspondent, Alok Jha; author and broadcaster, Georgina Ferry; director of the MRC Clinical Trial Unit, Professor Max Parmar; and last year’s Max Perutz Award winner, Nicola Illingworth from Newcastle University.
During the awards ceremony, Sir John said, “An integral part of the MRC’s mission is to promote dialogue with the public about medical research. This competition is a fantastic way of achieving this. All of our 12 shortlisted students have done exceptionally well in capturing the excitement and relevance of their research. It was a pleasure to meet them this evening and congratulate them on their considerable achievements.”
A runner-up prize was awarded to Michael Wallace from the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. There were also special commendations for articles by Olly Donnelly from the Department of Molecular Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, USA, and Alastair Webb from the Stroke Prevention Research Unit at the University of Oxford.
Now in its 14th year, the Max Perutz Award encourages MRC-funded PhD students to communicate their research to a wider audience, asking them to describe the importance and excitement of their research in just 800 words. Since the competition started in 1998, hundreds of students have submitted entries and taken their first steps in science communication.
The award is named in honour of one of the UK’s most outstanding scientists and communicators, Dr Max Perutz. Max, who died in 2002, was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work using X-ray crystallography to study the structures of globular proteins. He was the founder and first chairman of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge, the lab which unravelled the structure of DNA. Max was also a keen and talented communicator who inspired countless students to use everyday language to share their research with the people whose lives are improved by their work.