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Exploring science at the British Library

31 March 2015

Access to Understanding 2015: In Summary

The winners of the Access to Understanding science writing competition are revealed.

On Friday 27 March, under the striking façade of the King’s Library Tower, the British Library played host to the Access to Understanding Awards 2015. The event was a celebration of excellent science writing: an evening to recognise the efforts and accomplishments of our entrants and also, more broadly, to recognise the value of clear science communication. But before we reflect on the evening’s festivities, first we take a look back at the competition as a whole.

The competition is run in partnership by The British Library, eLife and Europe PMC. We asked entrants to write a summary of a research article at a level that an interested member of the public would understand. Each summary needed to explain why the research was done, what was done and why it was important, all in fewer than 800 words. Entrants could choose from twelve articles, freely available from Europe PMC.

Looking back at the competition...

Now in its third year, the competition has gone from strength to strength. We received over 300 entries and a record number of votes were cast for the People’s Choice Award (1604). If ever evidence were needed that there is a demand for plain-English science, from both the public and the scientific community, then Access to Understanding provides it.

The need for plain-English science summaries was further underlined by Professor Jim Smith, Deputy CEO of the MRC, in his keynote speech where he stated that “such summaries would be a huge contribution to our attempts to explain science and its significance”. He felt that, in combination with further open access publishing, “this democratisation of science is very important, [perhaps] the most radical change in science communication since… the first journal 350 years ago.” Simon Denegri, NIHR National Director for Patients and the Public in Research and chair of our judging panel, echoed the importance of plain-English science in his speech emphasising that “the knowledge gained from good [science] writing is empowering”.

Jim Smith keynote
Professor Jim Smith giving his keynote speech

Now, our shortlist represents some of the best plain-English science writing around, but who was the best?

Our shortlist (from left to right): Sabrina Talukdar (People's Choice), Elizabeth Randall, Hannah Ralph, Hannah Mackay, Carly Lawler, Natalie Edelman, Minghao Chia, Peter Canning (3rd), David Bowkett, Philippa Matthews (1st), Sophie Regnault, and chair of our judging panel Simon Denegri.

First place was awarded to Philippa Matthews for her entry ‘Rolling back malaria: A journey through space and time’, which described research exploring the changing patterns of malaria risk across Africa. Second place went to Juliet Lamb for her entry ‘Who you are, or who you’re with? Age predicts disease risk’. And third place was awarded to Peter Canning for his entry ‘Breaking through cancer’s acid shell’ which discussed drug absorption in the acidic environment around tumours. The People’s Choice Award – a key part of our competition – was won by Sabrina Talukdar for her entry ‘The persistent perils of puberty’. For more on these winning entries, please check out our previous blog announcing the competition winners.

Our winners (clockwise from top left): Peter Canning (3rd), Philippa Matthews (1st) and Sabrina Talukdar (People's Choice)

These Pulitzers of plain-English science are the culmination of several months of hard work – by entrants, funders and judges alike – without them there would be no competition. We’d like to thank everyone involved for their efforts and we look forward to doing it all over again in 2016!


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