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How Atlas brings vital research to the world’s attention

The public is a crucial stakeholder in the scientific process; Atlas helps make that connection

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At the Atlas Award ceremony May 25 at the University of Queensland, Australia: Prof. Melissa Brown (Executive Dean, Faculty of Science), James Allan (PhD candidate, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences) and Prof. Aidan Byrne (Provost). (Photo courtesy of the University of Queensland)

Editor’s note: This month, we are exploring “how science can build a sustainable future.” Elsevier’s Atlas recognizes published research with high societal relevance, summarizing the science in a lay-friendly story to reach an as wide an audience as possible.


When James Allan and his research team at the School of Earth and Environmental Studies at the University of Queensland set out to examine the ways human activity was affecting Natural World Heritage Sites (NWHS), they did so because they were passionate about conservation.

What they found was disturbing.

Despite their protected status, many of these sites – designated as the world’s most distinctive and biologically important – were under threat, with some at risk of being destroyed forever. This, as Allan saw it, was a crucial issue for the global public.

“Everyone lives close to one of these sites, or has visited one, so take a stand for that,” said Allan, in a recent story in Atlas. “Members of the public can use their voices to defend NWHS. Let your government know that you won’t compromise these iconic places for short term gain.”

Rattan Lal, PhDSimilarly, when Dr. Rattan Lal of the Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center found that food security in a changing climate could be achieved by adopting basic principles of ecohydrology, he too saw it as a matter for the public. Dr. Lal called on policy makers, farmers and the general public to recognize that the health of people depends on the health of land and soil.

“Each of us must take personal responsibility,” he said last year, recommending that people reduce food waste in their homes and move to a more plant-based diet.

Both these scientists received an Atlas award for their research. Each month, Atlas selects published research on topics that have high societal relevance or address global issues, summarizing the science in a lay-friendly story to reach an as wide an audience as possible.

“I’m a passionate conservationist, and winning an Atlas award helps raise the profile of Natural World Heritage conservation globally,” Allan said. “Sending a message to the public and policy makers about the danger these places are in was a key aim of our paper, and Elsevier has helped us achieve this. The award goes to show how much people care about their Natural World Heritage.”

Atlas showcases research that can significantly impact people's lives around the world, or already has. Research papers are selected by an external advisory board made up of representatives of some of the world's most renowned non-government organizations (NGOs), including the United Nations University and Oxfam.

“Atlas provides another way of engaging people in science,” said Virginia Prada López, Associate Publisher at Elsevier. “We have tools like Mendeley that connect research communities together. We also have analytics platforms like SciVal and Scopus that provide insights to governments. With Atlas, we have a way of bringing the public into the discussion. Each of these stakeholders needs to be engaged if we are going to make a difference to the future of the planet.”

Read more Atlas stories here.

How science can build a sustainable future

This month, we are exploring “how science can build a sustainable future.” At Elsevier, we support sustainability science throughout our business, bringing sustainability research to a wider audience, for example, and providing information and analytics that shed light on sustainability research.

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