10 women who are strong science communicators

17 Nov 2016

Image: Dragon Images/Shutterstock

For the final instalment of our Science 50 series, we’re taking a look at those amazing women who are not only members of the science community, but are great advocates and communicators for science.

If a tree falls in the woods and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Scientific breakthroughs, discoveries and innovations need people to shout about them as much as they need people to discover them.

Equally, the best communicators in the science industry are not only talking about the latest scientific news, but they’re promoting the science sector as a whole, and encouraging young people to pursue scientific careers. With that in mind, we’re looking at 10 of the most influential science communicators as the final instalment of our Science 50 series.


Aoibhinn Ní Shuilleabháin

When it comes to listing some of Ireland’s most famous scientists today, Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shuilleabháin has to be included.

Currently a lecturer in the School of Mathematics and Statistics in University College Dublin, Ní Shuilleabháin has also been a passionate science communicator since she graduated with her BSc in theoretical physics in 2005.

With the legendary Richard Feynman as one of her inspirations, Ní Shuilleabháin remains one of the hosts of The Science Squad on RTÉ, which has been running since 2012, connecting young people with important science topics.

Aoibhinn Ní Shuilleabháin

Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin in Soroti, northern Uganda. Image: Jeannie O’Brien/Trócaire (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Dr Niamh Shaw

Dr Niamh Shaw has a lot of strings to her bow. She’s an actress, a performer, an engineer and a scientist. A self-professed wannabe astronaut, Shaw has dreamed of going to space since she was a child. After countless conversations with astronauts, astrophysicists and space industry experts, Shaw created a multimedia theatrical piece, aptly named To Space, as part of the Tiger Fringe Festival in 2014.

The play – part comedic memoir, part science lesson – was so successful that it travelled all over the country and beyond. To Space is back in Dublin tonight (17 November) at the Smock Alley Theatre as part of Science Week.

Timandra Harkness

Author of several big-data books, Timandra Harkness presents the BBC Radio 4 series, FutureProofing, and has presented a number of radio documentaries on data. She has written comedy shows around science and maths, and frequently writes for various magazines and newspapers. Her most recent book, Big Data: Does Size Matter? was published in June of this year, and covers the basics of big data in a comedic and accessible fashion, as well as tackling the bigger questions.

Harkness is due to speak the SCI:COM Science Communication conference in Ballsbridge Hotel Dublin on 7 December.

Sylvia Leatham

Sylvia Leatham is the coordinator of STEPS at Engineers Ireland, a non-profit programme that promotes STEM careers to primary and second-level students. STEPS works in strategic partnership with Science Foundation Ireland on Smart Futures, a collaborative government industry education programme highlighting STEM careers to post-primary students in Ireland. In 2014, STEPS volunteers donated more than 15,000 hours to the programme; collectively engaging in around 80,000 face-to-face interactions with students, their teachers and parents.

With her Engineers Ireland hat on, Leatham also organises Engineers Week in Ireland and is the co-founder of award-winning Irish science podcast, Scibernia.

Laurie Winkless

Physicist-turned-writer Laurie Winkless just published her first book, Science and the City, a couple of months ago. The book delves into what makes cities work in terms of engineering and science. She received a BSc physics with astrophysics from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and a master’s in space science from University College London. Winkless was working with the Nobel Foundation in a communications role when a publisher spotted her Twitter account and approached her for book ideas.

She’s passionate about translating science into English without dumbing it down, and already has plans for book number two.

Cara Santa Maria

Cara Santa Maria is an award-winning journalist, who currently co-hosts and co-produces Fablab, a science television programme on Fox. She’s also the creator and host of weekly podcast, Talk Nerdy, in which she engages interesting people in candid conversations across a wide range of topics. In July 2015, Santa Maria was named a correspondent on Real Future for Fusion. She co-founded the annual science communication ‘unconference’ SciCommCamp, which is running for the second time on 18-20 November.

Prior to her science journalism career, Santa Maria taught biology and psychology courses to students in Texas and New York.

Eugenia Cheng

Dr Eugenia Cheng is a lecturer and scientist in residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is a theoretical mathematician, working in the incredibly abstract field of category theory.

Of course, we’re all more than one thing and, in addition to her mathematical prowess, Cheng is an avid baker. She uses this equally valuable skill set to better communicate the concept of complex mathematical theories. Her aim is to explain maths to everyone, regardless of their background.

Cheng turned this aim into a successful book, How to Bake π, packed full of recipes that act as simple metaphors for mathematical themes.

Melanie Thomson

Dr Melanie Thomson is an Australian microbiologist – a “recovering” academic microbiologist, according to Thomson herself – and prolific tweeter, as well as an avid supporter and promoter of medtech, pharma and Australian innovation.

Thomson is passionate about science and science communication. She has become instrumental in driving several successful crowdfunding campaigns through Pozible: Mighty Maggots, Hips 4 Hipsters and No More Poo Taboo.

Heavily involved in science advocacy as a member of the Women in Science Australia steering committee, Thomson also strives to increase representation in science, with a focus on getting more women into STEM and ensuring an end to all-male panels.

Maria Delaney

A freelance journalist with a special interest in science, medicine and health, Maria Delaney is a passionate science advocate and communicator.

With a BA in science and genetics, and four years completed at Abbott, Delaney’s background is heavily science-based. She’s taken that background and run with it.

In 2011, Delaney started an award-winning blog, Science Calling, with the intention of increasing interest in science by writing about it in a simple and appealing way.

Since then, Delaney has gone on to become a prolific freelancer, writing about science for numerous national and international publications.

Aoife McLysaght

Aoife McLysaght is one of Ireland’s leading geneticists, currently lecturing at the molecular evolution lab at TCD’s Smurfit Institute of Genetics. A prominent spokesperson on genetics in Ireland, McLysaght last year spoke to Siliconrepublic.com about the nearing reality of a post-antibiotic age.

McLysaght specialises in the origin and evolution of new genetic sequences, giving a dedicated talk on that subject at a recent science event in the UK. Having appeared on radio and in print as a scientific contributor, her Twitter account (@aoifemcl) is a treasure trove of scientific discussion, amongst other subjects.