Science communication centre to open

Improved science communication would bring New Zealanders ‘‘enormous'' benefits, including from better decisionmaking and enhanced quality of life, says Professor Lloyd Davis, director of New Zealand's first centre dedicated to the communication of science.

The centre, at the University of Otago, will be formally opened on Thursday by Prof Paul Callaghan, of Wellington. Prof Callaghan, a leading physicist and science communicator, will also give a public lecture, at the university's St David Lecture Theatre, at 6pm that day.

The lecture is entitled Science as leadership: a challenge for the 21st century. Prof Davis said improved science communication ultimately meant the public could contribute more effectively to good policy-making by gaining a deeper understanding of issues such as climate change and sustainable development.

Quality of life would also be improved by better understanding some health-related issues, Prof Davis added.

Many of the centre's first intake of postgraduate students will be at Thursday's launch of the centre and its associated academic programmes.

Already, 28 students have filled positions in the centre's planned master of science communication programme. The two-year programme has three options: science and natural history film-making; creative non-fiction writing in science; and popularising science.

At capacity, the centre will take up to 36 students on each intake. Next year, the centre is expected to have close to its full cohort of 72 students, constituting one of the largest groups of postgraduate science students on campus.

More information about the centre can be found at www.sciencecommunication.info.

Among other related events next week, there will also be a launch of a book by science communication student Claudia Babirat and Prof Davis, titled The Business of Documentary Film-making.

Creating the centre was initially made possible by $3.2 million in initial funding, comprising a $1.6m donation to the university by the Stuart Residence Halls Council, which was matched by the Government's Partnerships for Excellence Programme.

The centre will be based in a university-owned building in Great King St, near the university zoology department complex, officials said.

Also joining the centre's staff is Prof Jean Fleming, who was recently appointed professor of science communication at the university. Prof Fleming helped establish the International Science Festival in Dunedin in 1998.

Emmy award-winning writer and producer Ian McGee is director of film-making at the centre. He will divide his time between mentoring filmmaking students at the centre and continuing to write and produce programmes at Natural History New Zealand.

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