One problem that Steven’s research group are interested in is the way in which protein misfolding causes diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Building on his post-doctoral work under 2014 Nobel Prize winner W.E. Moerner, Steven and his team have recently developed a technique to visualise how the environment of single proteins changes at different stages of misfolding – something that can’t be seen with traditional microscope techniques. Their research was picked up by the national press and the experience led Steven to realise the importance of making research engaging and accessible, especially when that work is publicly funded.
“I think there’s been a tendency amongst academics to not work very hard at communication through the media; I think that has to change. The general taxpayer pays for the research that goes on in our labs and they deserve to know what we’re doing with their money. We feel incredibly privileged to be in this position and I see it as a responsibility to give back.
“Traditionally, there has been an attitude of ‘I’ve made my paper open source so people can access it’ and I think that’s a really archaic way of looking at communication. We can’t just say ‘well anyone can read it’. While they should absolutely have the right to access the information and the paper, because they paid for the research, they also require a little bit of help to understand why we think what we’re doing is so important.”