Wolfgang Heckl awarded Descartes Prize for Science Communication

12/03/04

European Commission's new prize awarded for the first time

This release is also available in German.

Wolfgang Heckl, professor of experimental physics and nanotechnologist at the Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich, Germany, who became the Director General of the Deutsches Museum in Munich on 1 October, was today awarded the European Commission's new Descartes Prize for Science Communication. This is the first time that this €50,000 prize has been awarded. Wolfgang Heckl received the prize in the "Professional Scientists engaged in Science Communication to the Public" category. His nomination for the prize was submitted by the DFG. The selection panel gave the following reason for selecting Heckl:

Professor Heckl is a dynamic personality and has received widespread recognition for his ability to make hard science understandable and entertaining to a broad range of audiences.

Approximately 300 guests from the scientific community and politics, as well as journalists from throughout Europe, gathered in the historic Rudolph Gallery in Prague's Hradčany Castle, to attend the opening of the award ceremony for the Descartes Prize for Research and the Descartes Prize for Science Communication by Václav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic, and Janez Potočnik, the newly appointed EU Commissioner for Science and Research.

The highly respected Descartes Prize for Excellence in collaborative scientific research, worth €500,000, was awarded for the fifth time. This year it was awarded to two teams in the fields of life science and physics.

The new prize for science communication, created by the European Commission, was awarded in three categories. Alongside Wolfgang Heckl in the "Professional Scientists engaged in Science Communication to the Public" category, the British zoologist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough also received a prize. Two prizes were also awarded in the "Innovative Action for Science Communication" category, one to Hungarian molecular biologist Professor Peter Csermely for his initiative to help schoolchildren get involved in research, and the other to Belgian material scientist Professor Ignaas Verpoest for his traveling exhibition "Composites on Tour". The French TV journalist Vincent Lamy received an award in the "Scientific TV/Radio Programme" category for his award-winning TV documentary on camouflaged insects (Face aux phasmes).

The total prize money of €250,000 for the Prize for Science Communication was shared equally between the five prizewinners.

Forty seven nominations for the Descartes Prize for Science Communication were received by the European Commission from throughout Europe. Nineteen of these were short-listed as finalists to give presentations in Prague.

To qualify for nomination for the Communication Prize organized by the EU, candidates must have already been awarded a prize or comparable distinction at national level. Professor Wolfgang Heckl was awarded the 2002 Communicator Prize by the DFG and the Donor's Association for the Promotion of Science and Humanities for outstanding achievements in relating his scientific work to the public.

Wolfgang Heckl was born in 1958, and after leaving school studied physics at the Technical University of Munich. Having gained a doctorate in biophysics, he first spent a year as a post-doc at the University of Toronto in Canada in 1989, before joining Professor Gerd Binnig at the IBM Research Laboratory in Switzerland. He completed his "Habilitation" (the German qualification for a university lecturer) in physics in 1993, and, in the same year, he accepted an appointment as Professor of Experimental Physics at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. In 1993 he received the Philipp Morris Research Award. Since October 2004 Wolfgang Heckl has also been the Director General of the Deutsches Museum in Munich.

For over ten years, Wolfgang Heckl has committed himself to communicating his research results to the general public. He already earned a reputation in this respect in the early nineties, with various television documentaries showing his grid tunnel microscopic examinations of human DNA, which for the first time enabled a representation of DNA bases as the building-blocks of the genetic code. Heckl has since given the public insights into the world of nanotechnology in numerous scientific TV programmes. In his endeavours to promote a better understanding of science, Heckl uses a wide variety of methods to communicate his subject, aiming to address people of all ages and from all sections of society. In particular, he seeks direct contact with the younger generation and is actively involved in organising exhibitions and scientific events. He undauntedly seeks dialogue with those who are sceptical of science and critical of nanotechnology, of which he is a proponent. His commitment to the public understanding of science also encompasses politics. In this respect, just as in his work with young people, Heckl regards his campaign for an understanding of and enthusiasm for science as an investment in the future. In the summer of 2004 Wolfgang Heckl agreed to act as chairman for the next pan-European EuroScience Open Forum, scheduled to take place in Munich in 2006.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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