Bright young spark wins synchrotron storywriting competition

Light Reading for schools competition winner


Light Reading Winner Photo

Diamond Light Source has announced the winner of its 2013 Light Reading for schools competition. The UK’s synchrotron science facility in Oxfordshire provided ample fuel for the imaginations of children up and down the country; the facility inspired over 40 young people between the ages of 11-16 to write stories of all genres, ranging from comedies to thrillers to tales of the supernatural. But it was Christy Flora Au, from Headington School in Oxford, who swept the judges away with her beautiful tale of a rare piece of rugrose coral found on a desolate Iranian beach.

The Light Reading for Schools competition was launched in October 2012 as a way of encouraging young people to discover more about Diamond and the amazing scientific work that goes on there. The competition follows on from the original Light Reading competition, which invited entries from people of all ages and from around the world. The original competition drew in over 50 different stories, and was eventually won by US scientist Corie Ralston, with her touching story of the relationship between a Diamond scientist and a slug-like alien. The entrants to Light Reading for Schools were all under 17, but the imaginative and varied stories were all of a very high calibre. Some contained accounts of amazing discoveries, whilst other featured tales of murder and espionage, but all of them drew on the sense of wonder and amazement evoked by the Diamond synchrotron.

Light-Reading Winner Photo

Lambelasma, That is My Name scooped top prize with its rendition of the discovery of a 462 million year old piece of coral, written from the coral’s perspective. The charming tale conveys the coral’s loneliness and subsequent trepidation as it is gathered by scientists from an Iranian beach where it lives a solitary existence. The coral’s excitement when it is christened Lambelasma provides a delightful twist on the traditional ‘Eureka’ moment in science, where it is generally the scientist who is overjoyed at the discovery.
 
15 year old Christy is thrilled at winning the competition. The young writer has won a kindle and £500 for Headington School, where she is a student. Christy’s story will also be published in an anthology of stories selected from the entries to Light Reading for schools. In addition, on Friday 7th June 2013, Christy and some of her classmates were taken out for a day at the Cheltenham Science Festival, where Prof. Alice Roberts, anatomist and broadcaster, presented Christy with a recording of Alice reading Lambelasma, That is My Name.
 
The winning author commented, “I was always interested in creative writing from a very young age, and have always tried to improve my writing with any chance I get. When I first saw the Light Reading poster I wasn't quite sure whether I wanted to send in an entry or not, as science was never my strong point, but the more I learnt about the research done at Diamond, the more interested I became.”
 
“Diamond is no ordinary science research centre, it is exploring uncharted territory and that really piqued my interest. Deciding to write from a different perspective, the perspective of the coral/fossil that was being tested on, I found myself researching everything, from recent discoveries by Diamond to the sounds produced by the synchrotron. The combination of science and literature in this competition fascinated me to no end. I sent my entry in thinking I had no chance of winning, so imagine my surprise when I got an email saying I had won. This experience has really changed how I think about writing and has allowed me a chance to improve not just my writing skills, but my idea of literature.”

Christy is already a published author. At the age of 12 her children’s novel called ‘Fantasy and reality’ – a story about a brother and sister who enter a magical world through a window – was published.
 Light Reading Winner Photo
Public Engagement Manager Laura Holland commented on the winning entry “Christy’s enchanting story about a rugose coral being brought to Diamond for analysis and identification stood out from all the entries we received. By giving the coral a voice, she immediately draws readers in, taking them on a journey that is exciting, amusing and very heartwarming. We are delighted that, during Christy’s visit to the Cheltenham Science Festival, she was able to meet both Christian Baars, the researcher from Amgueddfa Cymru - the Museum of Wales - who brought the actual coral fossil to Diamond for examination, and Robert Atwood, the Diamond scientist who helped him with the imaging experiments.”
 
The competition attracted over 40 entries, and the stories reflected a range of genres and styles, from humour to science fiction. The winning story in the junior category was an action packed tale about a father and daughter using Diamond to travel to a different dimension, while other entries included a ghostly tale about an RAF pilot haunting a sickly scientist at the synchrotron. 
 
Diamond Light Source is a scientific facility which generates a light 10 billion times brighter than the sun. This light is then used by scientists to carry out research on a vast range of topics, from artificial hips and samples of the Mary Rose to virus proteins and potential new fuel sources.
 
The winning and runner up entries can be read online at www.light-reading.org and the top 10 entries to the Light Reading competition will be featured in an anthology to be printed this Summer.

For a fascinating insight into fossils generally and this particular rugose coral sample specifically, do check out Dr Christian Baars’ blog on the National Museum Wales website