Worldwide media attention for the Millennium Technology Prize

The presentation of the 2016 Millennium Technology Prize to the biochemist Frances Arnold won considerable attention from the world’s media.

According to the British communications agency Apollo Strategic Communications, Frances Arnold’s nomination was reported widely in media that reach altogether 1.5 billion people around the world. The reasons for the high visibility were the fact that neither the prize-winner nor her field were well known before the nomination and that for the first time, the prize was awarded to a woman. Visibility for the 2016 Millennium Technology Prize, which is awarded by the Technology Academy Finland (TAF), was greatest in the United States where Arnold lives and works.

The prize was nominated to Arnold for her pioneering role in directed evolution, a new and quick way to engineer proteins. Articles on the Millennium Technology Prize highlighted the broad impact that the prize-winning innovation has on improving the quality of life for humankind and on environmental protection. With Frances Arnold’s innovations, non-renewable and expensive raw materials can be replaced with sustainable alternatives in many industries.

Another focus in the news articles was Arnold’s interesting career path. She has a background in process technology and at the time she moved to protein engineering, other researchers in the field were mostly biochemists and protein scientists. Although Arnold’s unique research methods were what led to her groundbreaking innovation, they were initially rejected by her colleagues.

“I basically knew nothing about the field. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have done it, because I would have known how hard it was,” Arnold said in and interview with the BBC.

 

Gender gap in technology won attention

News articles about the prize also highlighted Frances Arnold’s goal of encouraging women to enter the fields of science and technology. The Millennium Technology Prize was awarded to a woman for the first time this year.

“The prize brings [Arnold] an opportunity to spotlight the gender gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers and to be a role model to other women,”  The Huffington Post wrote.

Interviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle, Jarl-Thure Eriksson, Chair of the International Selection Committee, said that Arnold was clearly the most outstanding of the nominated candidates. The Chronicle quotes Eriksson: “From the start of her career she has been a pioneer in a previously male-dominated field.”

Juha Ylä-Jääski, CEO of the Technology Academy Finland TAF, says that the extensive media attention is proof that the Millennium Technology Prize has further strengthened its position as an internationally recognized science award.

“The prize is widely considered a robust recognition of top-level expertise in technology. Also the fact that the prize was awarded to a woman for the first time had significant news value this year,” Ylä-Jääski says.