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K.J. Cath Prize: making a difference by communicating science

Astronomer and science communicator Pedro Russo is awarded the K.J Cath Prize and € 2,500 for his outreach efforts that bring science to the general public. ‘There are so many bright scientists, and so few people communicating about science.’

Team effort

The prize recognises Russo's contributions to outreach, particularly for his work as International Project Manager of Universe Awareness (UNAWE). Russo works at Leiden Observatory and the Science Communication & Society department. He notes that his selection for the prize came as a surprise: ‘Especially due to the nature of the prize, I did not expect this because our work goes far beyond the University itself. For us, it’s an amazing recognition from the University. I’m very happy that the jury values our work.’

Russo emphasises that this recognition represents the work and success of many. ‘Our projects are the effort of so many individuals who are passionate about bringing science closer to the public. It is a team effort, and we’re extremely proud to receive this prize.’   

Universe Awareness

Universe Awareness uses the beauty and grandeur of the Universe to inspire young children and encourage them to develop an interest in science and technology. Through astronomy, Universe Awareness introduces children around the world to the idea of global citizenship at a crucial stage of their development – to show them that they are part of an international community.

Making a difference

Throughout his academic career, Russo recognised the missing link between the exciting discoveries in science and the general public. ‘When I was studying for a PhD at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, I sensed that I could add much more to science communication than to scientific knowledge. There are so many bright scientists, and so few people communicating about science. That’s where I felt I could really make a difference.’   

George Miley

After leading the United Nations’ International Year of Astronomy 2009 globally, Russo was approached by Universe Awareness’ founder George Miley. ‘George had just obtained a grant for Universe Awareness, and was looking for someone to implement the project’, says Russo. ‘I knew the project well, and it aligned with my interests and vision for science communication and education. I am very grateful for the opportunity he gave me. Here at Leiden I found a very stimulating and supportive environment, where I could implement my ideas while being part of a community.’

The value of science

Russo remains busy with his various tasks at the University, from teaching, coordinating projects (including Universe Awareness and Space Awareness) and establishing a citizen’s science lab. He also contributes to research about the attitudes of scientists towards outreach. Despite his full schedule, Russo is known for his enthusiasm and his charisma, which make Russo such a valued science communicator and easy-going colleague. ‘It is the responsibility of every scientist to play a role in engaging our fellow citizens with the knowledge and values of science.’

K.J. Cath Prize

The biennial Mr. K.J. Cath award is named after lawyer K.J. Cath, who was president of the Executive Board of Leiden University until 1988. The academic community nominates students and/or staff who, with their research or teaching, or their support of research and teaching, have promoted the standing of Leiden University. The award consists of a certificate and an amount of 2,500 euros. 

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