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Bishop's Stortford journalist Rory Galloway wins Kavli Science Journalism Award for BBC Radio 4 programme A Sense of Time

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A science journalist from Bishop's Stortford has won an international award for a BBC Radio 4 programme he was inspired to create after watching a flock of swifts soaring over the town's flour mill.

Freelance writer and producer Rory Galloway beat competition from around the world to win the Gold Award in the audio category of the annual Kavli Science Journalism Awards for A Sense of Time, which explores the science of time perception within and between species.

Run by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the awards honour journalists for distinguished reporting on the sciences, engineering and mathematics, and this year attracted entries from 46 countries.

Rory Galloway (24192072)
Rory Galloway (24192072)

Bird-loving Rory is a zoology graduate who credits his grandfather Kenneth for helping to nurture an interest in ornithology from a young age.

He was inspired to make the programme, featuring BBC radio presenter Geoff Marsh, after filming the swifts and noticing that their call sounded markedly different when the footage was played back in slow motion.

The 29-year-old, a former Bishop's Stortford High School and Bishop's Stortford College student, said: "I used to live opposite the flour factory, and I was looking out the window last summer watching these swifts flying around and thought maybe if I film them on my phone in slow motion I might be able to see them in a bit more detail.

"When I turned the volume up, I realised the sound had also recorded in slow motion, and instead of making their usual screeching sound, the noise was completely different and you could make out lots more information in the call. The idea for the programme then developed from there."

Rory, who lives with his husband Pete near Rhodes Arts Complex in South Road, said it got him thinking more deeply about how animals, birds and insects experience time, describing A Sense of Time as combining "philosophical ideas with scientific reality".

"We can't get inside the mind of an animal, but we can find out what information is going into their brain and then use science to deduce what they might digest from the world," he added.

The 30-minute broadcast, which took about three weeks to make, featured interviews with experts including Israel-based Prof Yossi Yovel, a leading neuroscientist in the field of bat behaviour, as well as researchers at the University of Maryland.

To help bring listeners into the experiences being described, Rory varied the speed of the audio, including playing birdsong and interviewer Geoff's voice at different rates to convey a sense of what was being discussed, a technique which won particular praise from award judge Janet Raloff, editor of Science News for Students, who applauded A Sense of Time for being "fast-paced and interesting throughout".

Rory, who also works for the BBC World Service, has been invited to fly to the United States in February to collect his award and a cash prize at a ceremony in Seattle.

"Most people who work in this field enter the awards each year, but I never in a million years expected to win, especially as I'm only three years into my career," he said. "But I'm absolutely thrilled, and to be recognised on an international level is fantastic."

A Sense of Time is still available to listen to online at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0003qxf.

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