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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 May 2006, 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK
Science prize seeks new sponsor

Parallel Worlds book cover
The prize has helped establish some of the big names in science communication
Science's most prestigious book prize has lost its sponsorship from the Aventis Foundation.

The 2006 Aventis Prize Science Book Prizes, to be announced on Tuesday, will be the last for the foundation.

The Royal Society, which manages the awards, said it was seeking a new backer and was confident of success.

The news comes as research shows sales figures for shortlisted Aventis Prize books rival those of the Orange and Whitbread book awards.

Data from Nielsen BookScan compared the combined lifetime sales in the UK of the four largest-selling entries from the shortlists of the major book prizes.

In 2004, the sales figures for the Aventis prize - 1,612,858 - placed the science books ahead of the Orange (919,621), Whitbread best novel (1,065,026) and Booker (577,691) book prizes.

However, the numbers that year were boosted by Bill Bryson's immensely popular book, A Short History of Nearly Everything.

In 2005, the Aventis shortlist racked up sales figures of 142,392.

'Golden age'

Professor Lord Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, said: "We are enjoying a golden age of science writing, and the entries for the books prize have set new standards of excellence as well as reaching new levels of popularity.

"The new figures show that the science books prizes now rival the other major books prizes in terms of the sales of the shortlisted entries.

"Now that it is established as a prize for books with a wide public appeal, we are seeking a new sponsor that shares the Royal Society's commitment to widening public interest in science."

The awards were set up in 1988, and have been known as the Aventis Prizes since 2000.

On Tuesday, the winners of the 2006 General and Junior Prizes will be announced at an awards dinner at the Royal Society. The prizes, intended to mark the very best in popular science writing, are worth 10,000 each.

The full shortlist for the 2006 Aventis General Prize:

Power, Sex, Suicide - Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life, by Nick Lane (Oxford University Press)
Mitochondria are tiny structures within all our cells that do the essential task of producing energy and are pivotal in power, sex, and suicide. In his book, Nick Lane shows how understanding mitochondria is of fundamental importance, both in understanding how complex life came to be, but also in order to be able to control our own illnesses, and delay our degeneration and death.

Empire of the Stars - Friendship, Obsession and Betrayal in the Quest for Black Holes, by Arthur I Miller (Little Brown)
In August 1930, the young Indian scientist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar calculated that certain stars could end their lives by collapsing indefinitely to a point. This idea brought Chandra into conflict with Sir Arthur Eddington, the grand old man of British astrophysics, who publicly ridiculed the idea. Empire of the Stars teases out the major implications of this infamous event, setting it against the backdrop of the turbulent growth of astrophysics.

Electric Universe - How Electricity Switched on the Modern World, by David Bodanis (Little Brown)
For centuries, electricity was viewed as little more than a curious property of certain substances that sparked when rubbed. Then, in the 1790s, Alessandro Volta began the scientific investigation that ignited an explosion of knowledge and invention. In Electric Universe, Bodanis weaves the tales of romance, inspiration, and fraud that surround the story of electricity.

Collapse - How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, by Jared Diamond (Penguin Allen Lane)
Diamond sets out to explore why some societies flourish, while others founder. He asks what happened to the people who made the long-abandoned statues of Easter Island or to the architects of the Maya pyramids; and questions whether we will go the same way. Bringing together new evidence and piecing together the myriad influences that make societies self-destruct, Collapse sets out to show how, unlike our ancestors, we can benefit from our knowledge of the past and learn to be survivors.

Parallel Worlds - The Science of Alternative Universes and our Future in the Cosmos, by Michio Kaku (Penguin)
Understanding the creation and ultimate fate of the Universe is one of the great scientific stories of the 20th Century and in the 21st, the story is expanding to enfold many universes. Using the latest astronomical data, Parallel Worlds explores the Big Bang, "theories of everything", our cosmic future and the human implications of this story.

The Truth About Hormones - What's Going on when We're Tetchy, Spotty, Fearful, Tearful or Just Plain Awful, by Vivienne Parry (Atlantic Books)
Hormones rule our internal world: they control our growth, our metabolism, weight, water-balance, body clocks, fertility, muscle bulk, mood, speed of ageing, whether we want sex or not, and even who we fall in love with. In The Truth About Hormones, Vivienne Parry explains how these mysteriously powerful things affect us.

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07 Mar 06 |  Science/Nature
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12 May 05 |  Science/Nature
Bryson wins 10,000 science prize
14 Jun 04 |  Science/Nature
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25 Jun 03 |  Science/Nature
Hawking takes top book prize
25 Jun 02 |  Science/Nature

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