UK scientist and children's author wins EMBO Award for Communications 2004


Fran Balkwill, Professor of Cancer Biology at the Barts & The London, Queen Mary's Medical School, is the 2004 winner of the EMBO Award for Communication in the Life Sciences. Balkwill receives the award in recognition of her outstanding contribution to science communication for children. The cancer researcher has authored 13 children's books that take a novel look at a range of topics from genetics to HIV and AIDS. Balkwill is also the Director of the 'Centre of the Cell', an exciting new interactive bioscience centre in London's East End.

The EMBO Award for Communication is presented annually to a practising life scientist in Europe who has made significant contributions to public understanding of science. The award highlights the exceptional efforts made by many scientists to combine science communication activities with a full-time research career. Winners of the EMBO Communications Award are also put forward for the European Commission's Descartes Prize for Science Communication.

The International jury applauded Balkwill for 'her spectacular work in communicating important scientific concepts to the young and her untiring efforts to bring critical science and health messages to deprived communities'. The prize of Euro 5,000 and a handcrafted gold and silver medal were presented to Fran Balkwill on November 5, 2004 at the EMBL/EMBO Science & Society Conference, "Time and Aging Mechanisms and Meanings" in Heidelberg, Germany.

Frances Balkwill said: "I am delighted to receive this award, but I don't look on it as an individual achievement. Without illustrator, Mic Rolph, the books would never have been a success and there are numerous other people in the UK, Europe, South Africa and the US, who have helped and inspired me. The award is a great honour and I hope it will help stress the importance of science education for the young and bring attention to the plight of children at risk of HIV in Africa today."

As well as her full-time role as a researcher and Director of the Cancer Research UK Translational Oncology Centre at Queen Mary, Fran Balkwill is a dedicated science communicator. She has written 13 acclaimed children's books including the prize-winning Cells Are Us and Cell Wars. Illustrated by Mic Rolph, the books combine punchy narrative with lively graphics, taking readers on a journey through the wonders of biology. The latest two books, although equally entertaining, have a far more profound aim saving lives. Staying Alive: Fighting HIV/AIDS and the revised edition, You, Me and HIV are aimed at educating children at risk of contracting HIV in Africa.

Research for Balkwill and Rolph's first book on HIV and Aids took the author and illustrator to South Africa, where they talked to children, teachers and health care professionals to determine the educational needs of the local communities. Funding for the project was organised by Siamon Gordon of Oxford University, who also came up with the original idea in 2000. In 2002, in collaboration with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 19,000 copies of Staying Alive: Fighting HIV/AIDS were distributed free of charge throughout South Africa.

The second edition, You, Me and HIV, also published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, is the result of a further trip to South Africa to assess the impact of the first book and incorporates revisions from teachers, students and community workers who have been working with the book. You, Me and HIV will be available from January 2005 and thanks to funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will reach 100,000 more children and educators in sub-Saharan Africa.

Since 2001 Frances Balkwill has also been the driving force behind another major science education project much closer to home. Housed within the new building for Bart's and The London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine in London's East End, the Centre of the Cell will open its doors to children, teenagers and teachers from the surrounding areas in April 2006. The Centre of the Cell is the first science education centre to be located within a medical school with working research laboratories. The aim is to allow visitors to experience the 'real thing' and draw them into the exciting world of biomedical research through a series of interactive exhibits and hands-on activities.

Deadline for 2005 EMBO Award for Communication in the Life Sciences: May 31, 2005

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