Graduate student wins prestigious writing prize

Biochemistry graduate student, Kate Wright, has won the Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize 2013.

Her article, ‘The revenge of the Americas’, gives an engaging and lively account of the debate surrounding the origins of syphilis in Europe. It won the ‘Professional scientists’ category of the competition which was judged by a panel of broadcasters, journalists and scientists. 

Kate Wright (click photo to enlarge)

The Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize is in association with the Guardian and the Observer. Kate’s article is published in the Observer and on the Wellcome Trust blog.

Kate has a strong interest in the history of disease – something that she enjoys reading about in her spare time. She wasn’t familiar with the debate surrounding the history of syphilis, but a paper from 2011 caught her imagination and now lies at the heart of her article.

‘I loved it because it was at the intersection of history, anthropology, and epidemiology,’ she says. On top of this, she felt that the story illustrated the way that science works. ‘Science is not always about a single, "killer" experiment definitively proving a hypothesis; often it is more of a consensus which crystallises over time,’ she comments.

She was also fascinated that people tend only to be familiar with diseases travelling one way at that time, from the Old World to the New World. The possibility that syphilis may have been spread the other way, coming back with Columbus and his sailors to Europe and decimating the populations there, is a novel one to many.

As a graduate student in the Department, Kate has spent the last three years focusing on another infectious disease – malaria. She works in the lab of Matt Higgins, investigating the structure of a parasite protein necessary for invasion of the red blood cells which is currently in vaccine trials.

Winning the Science Writing Prize was quite unexpected she says and will definitely encourage her to make more science stories accessible and engaging to a wide audience.





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