Shining a light on science
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.