(Vienna, 07 January 2021) The Austrian Club of Science and Education Journalists has voted Viennese virologist Elisabeth Puchhammer-Stöckl "Scientist of the Year 2020". The award, which was presented today (Thursday) in Vienna, is being awarded in recognition of the media liaison work of the 58-year-old Head of the Center for Virology of the Medical University of Vienna, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.
The annual award made by the club of journalists since 1994 is primarily intended to reward the efforts made by researchers to convey their work and scientific discipline to the public in an easy-to-understand way, thereby raising the profile of science and research in Austria.
Over the last few months, Puchhammer-Stöckl has repeatedly explained facts and background knowledge about the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, earning her particular praise for the "matter-of-fact way" in which she did this and the "factual information" she provided. According to one of her nominations from club members, she "promptly and continuously informed the media and the public in a knowledgeable, unpretentious and, when necessary, impactful manner ", thereby "setting an example for the role and effectiveness of scientific communication". Her TV interviews were circulated, "because, for the first time, one felt one was being told something significant", it said in another nomination.
The virologist expressed her delight at the award to the APA and highlighted the importance of scientific communication from the start of the coronavirus pandemic, "since many scientific findings had a direct impact upon the lives of countless people throughout the world". "All of us, scientists and journalists alike, worked hard throughout 2020 to increase public understanding of the virological principles of the pandemic and also to sift the relevant scientific facts from a huge flood of information," emphasised Puchhammer-Stöckl.
Born in Vienna on 30 September 1962, Puchhammer-Stöckl studied medicine in her home city and, following her PhD in 1986, she became involved in a virology project and has worked in the field ever since. She qualified as a university lecturer in 1994, having completed her specialist training to become a consultant in hygiene and microbiology and a consultant virologist. The focus of her research work is on so-called "persistent viruses", that is to say pathogens such as herpes viruses that, following infection, remain in a person's body throughout their lifetime and can potentially cause problems. In connection with coronaviruses, she and her group are researching, inter alia, the immune response of "natural killer cells", which occurs right at the start of the infection.
In 2000, she became an extraordinary professor at the Center for Virology, which she has headed up since 2018. At the beginning of December of the previous year, Puchhammer-Stöckl, who was a member of the Ampel (Traffic Light) Commission and is still on to the Health Minister's Corona Taskforce, took over a professorial Chair in Virology at the Medical University of Vienna.
In previous years, the award has been won by historian Barbara Stelzl-Marx (2019), chemist Nuno Maulide (2018), complexity researcher Stefan Thurner (2017/MedUni Vienna), gender medicine expert Alexandra Kautzky-Willer (2016/MedUni Vienna) and archaeologist Wolfgang Neubauer (2015).