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Launch of NZ’s first Science Communication Centre

15 February 2008

Otago launches New Zealand’s first Science Communication Centre

New Zealand’s first Centre dedicated to the communication of science is being launched at the University of Otago on Thursday (21 February).

And one of the country’s highest profile science communicators, Professor Paul Callaghan, will be opening the centre. Professor Callaghan will also be delivering the inaugural Distinguished Communicator Lecture, entitled “Science as Leadership: a Challenge for the 21st Century”.

Stuart Chair in Science Communication and Centre Director Professor Lloyd Davis says the Centre’s ultimate role is to enhance communication about science to the public.

Professor Davis says Thursday’s launch has three main aspects.

“It signals the launch of the Centre and associated academic programmes. It is the forum for the Centre’s inaugural Distinguished Communicator Lecture, by Professor Callaghan. And it will also launch a book called ‘The Business of Documentary Filmmaking’ by Claudia Babirat and I. It’s going to be a busy evening and a great occasion for some science communication to begin in earnest.”

The Centre is also home to the new Master of Science Communication programme, which has three options: Science and Natural History Filmmaking; Creative Non-fiction Writing in Science; and Popularising Science.

Many of the Centre’s first intake of postgraduate students will be at Thursday’s launch. There are already 28 positions filled across the three courses. At capacity, the Centre will be able to take up to 36 positions on each intake.

“There is some real excitement about the Master’s programme. Our philosophy is that we have to walk the talk,” Professor Davis says. “Students have to put something in the public arena as part of their thesis. So, in addition to the written component, they have to produce a film, book, website, museum display or the like – depending on the option they are studying within the programme.”

The Centre has been made possible thanks to a $1.6m donation to the University by the Stuart Residence Halls Council. As part of the University’s Leading Thinkers Initiative, this figure was matched by the Government's Partnerships for Excellence Programme.

The Centre has also attracted Professor Jean Fleming back to Otago, as Professor of Science Communication. Professor Fleming has spent the past three years in Australia as an academic with Griffith University's School of Biomolecular and Physical Sciences. She will be known to many through her high-profile role on the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification. Professor Fleming was heavily involved in the highly-successful Hands on Science secondary school programme during its early years and helped establish the International Science Festival in Dunedin in 1998.

Internationally-acclaimed NHNZ filmmaker Ian McGee this month also joined the Centre, as Director of Filmmaking. The Emmy award winning writer and producer will divide his time between mentoring students at the filmmaking course and, writing and producing programmes at NHNZ.


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