UNSW Scientia Medal for Science Communication

Scientific knowledge underpins society.

Communicating the value of scientific research and the wonder of discovery can encourage the next generation of scientists and innovators, as well as influence public debate and policy on important scientific issues.

With the world facing problems such as emerging infectious diseases, food insecurity, transformative new technologies, pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss, the need for a scientifically aware and engaged community has never been greater.

The UNSW Medal for Science Communication was established in 2014 by the Dean of UNSW Science to recognise excellence in the public communication of science.

The annual award honours individuals who have shared their knowledge and scientific insights with a broad audience - informing, inspiring and engaging the public on scientific topics and issues.

2017 Recipient - Margaret Wertheim

Professor Emma Johnston and Margaret Wertheim

Internationally acclaimed science writer, artist and curator Margaret Wertheim is the first Australian woman to receive the Medal. Born in Brisbane, but resident in Los Angeles, Wertheim studied physics and maths at university, and her work focuses on the relations between science and the wider cultural landscape.

She is the author of six books including Pythagoras’ Trousers, a history of physics, religion and gender, and The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, a history of scientific concepts of space, and she has designed art and science exhibits for galleries and museums around the world.

Her Crochet Coral Reef project – created with her twin sister Christine – is the largest science-and-art endeavour in the world and has been exhibited widely, including at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and the Hayward Gallery in London.

More than 10,000 people have participated in the project, which uses a crochet technique invented by a mathematician and based on hyperbolic geometry to recreate the beautifully coloured creatures of coral reefs and highlight the threats they face from climate change.

“Margaret is an extraordinary science communicator with a strong commitment to engaging more women in science,” said UNSW Dean of Science Professor Emma Johnston.

“Through her writing and art and handicraft she has brought the excitement and beauty of physics and mathematics to a diverse audience. The Scientia Medal acknowledges Margaret’s vital contribution to a better informed society." 

Wertheim received her award at an event at the Australian Museum where she also launched The Best Australian Science Writing 2017 and spoke on a panel of writers.

2016 Recipient - Dr Ben Goldacre

Medical researcher, doctor, campaigner and author of best-selling books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, is an outspoken critic of alternative therapies, anti-vaccination scares and drug company secrecy.

A Senior Clinical Research Fellow in the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, Goldacre is best known for his popular books and Bad Science weekly column written for the Guardian newspaper between 2003 and 2011. He defines bad science as people making claims they assert are scientific, but which the scientific evidence does not support.

Dr Goldacre has done the public a great service by using his formidable investigative skills to reveal how vested interests can distort science for their own benefit,” said UNSW Acting Dean of Science Professor Peter Lovibond.

“He also educates people about how evidence-based medicine works, so they can evaluate dodgy claims themselves. And he does it with wit, humour and courage, attracting large audiences for his books and public talks.”


Previous Medal Recipients


2015: Professor Stephen Hawking and Lucy Hawking


2014: Professor Iain Stewart