Shin­ing a light on sci­ence

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS -

SIOUXSIE Wiles helps us all see what’s hap­pen­ing in the world of sci­ence.

Her ef­forts in mak­ing the sci­en­tific world eas­ier to un­der­stand have earned her the 2013 Prime Min­is­ter’s Sci­ence Me­dia Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Prize.

The Pon­sonby-based mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist makes bac­te­ria glow in the dark so that we can bet­ter un­der­stand how to fight in­fec­tious dis­eases.

She is also a me­dia com­men­ta­tor and blog­ger who reg­u­larly gives pub­lic talks about sci­ence.

She was one of the faces of last year’s pub­lic en­gage­ment cam­paign for the Na­tional Sci­ence Chal­lenges.

The prize is worth $50,000 for Dr Wiles and another $50,000 which she can put to­wards de­vel­op­ing her sci­ence me­dia com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills. Dr Wiles does much of her sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tion in her spare time and sees it as a fun­da­men­tal part of the job.

‘‘I love to en­thuse about sci­ence but I also be­lieve our pro­fes­sion has a re­spons- ibil­ity to be ap­proach­able and ex­plain things to the pub­lic in a jar­gon-free way.

‘‘It’s also im­por­tant be­cause many New Zealand re­searchers get tax­payer fund­ing to carry out their re­search. If we want to con­tinue be­ing funded, it’s vi­tal that we tell the pub­lic what we are do­ing and why it is im­por­tant,’’ Dr Wiles says.

Known for her dis­tinc­tive pink hair, she says ap­pear­ing on tele­vi­sion in The Great New Zealand Sci­ence Project last year has raised her pro­file, es­pe­cially with young New Zealan­ders.

‘‘When I meet chil­dren there is of­ten a squeal of recog­ni­tion, par­tic­u­larly from young girls. And that is re­ally im­por­tant to me be­cause they are a group we need to keep in­ter­ested in sci­ence.

‘‘Re­search shows that if you in­ter­vene at a young age you can change per­cep­tions and help raise a gen­er­a­tion that doesn’t see be­ing a sci­en­tist as bor­ing or unattain­able.’’

Dr Wiles is re­search­ing the uses of bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cence, or the pro­duc­tion of light by liv­ing or­gan­isms. She leads the Univer­sity of Auck­land’s Bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cence Su­per­bugs Group, fo­cus­ing on how glow­ing bac­te­ria can help sci­en­tists bet­ter pre­vent and fight mi­cro­bial in­fec­tions such as food poi­son­ing, tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and hos­pi­tal su­per­bugs.

She plans to de­vote some of the prize money to­wards writ­ing a chil­dren’s book about bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cence, a project she will carry out with her 7-year-old daugh­ter.

Clever com­mu­ni­ca­tor: Dr Siouxsie Wiles loves to en­thuse about sci­ence.

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