Rebecca Priestley

AProf Rebecca Priestley profile picture

Associate Professor Centre for Science in Society


I am an interdisciplinary scholar and creative non-fiction writer who works at the boundary between science and the humanities. I am trained in earth sciences, history of science, and creative writing and have a research focus on science in New Zealand and Antarctica. Before starting my academic career in 2013, I had more than 20 years' experience in science communication in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Across my research portfolio, I ask questions about what New Zealand and Antarctic scientists do, and did in the past, and how and why they seek to engage publics with their science. I explore attitudes to important issues such as climate change, sea level rise, and nuclear power and investigate ways in which scientists, the media, and artists, communicate about these issues.

My creative non-fiction explores the nature and process of scientific research and seeks to engage audiences on contemporary scientific and environmental issues at a deeper level than is possible through magazine articles or academic literature.

My recent publications focus on Antarctica: Fifteen Million Years in Antarctica (VUP, 2019) is a personal response to my three visits to Antarctica; Dispatches from Continent Seven (Awa Press, 2016) is an anthology of Antarctic science writing; and a recent publication in Polar Record explores student response to a Massive Open Online Course about Antarctic geology and human history.


Victoria University of Wellington Early Career Teaching Award – Team Teaching (with Rhian Salmon, 2018)

Companion of the Royal Society Te Apārangi (2018)

Prime Minister’s Science Communicator’s prize (2016)

Royal Society of New Zealand Book Prize (2009)


With a focus on Aotearoa New Zealand and Antarctica, there are three interconnected strands to my research portfolio: history of science; science communication and public engagement with science; and creative science writing practice. I am a principal investigator with Te Pūnaha Matatini and an investigator on the NZ SeaRise programme.


I am interested in hearing from students seeking postgraduate supervision in any of my areas of research interest. I am particularly interested in students interested in researching women in New Zealand’s science history, Antarctic science history and humanities, topics in climate change communication (or more widely in science communication), and creative science writing.

Current supervisions include

Kate Hannah – ‘Hidden networks: feminist historiographies of the history of science in Aotearoa New Zealand’, PhD.

Jo Bailey – Engagement by design, engagement through design; design approaches to foster reflexive science communication, PhD.

Max Soar – ‘Communicating scientific complexity, risk, and uncertainty: Scientist-communicators and public engagement’, MSc (Science in Society).

Recent supervisions include

Helen Heath - 'Poems of science: hybrids of knowledge and subjectivity', PhD (International Institute of Modern Letters), 2017.

Janine Cook - 'Feathered friends and human-animals: General biology and comparative description within the New Zealand Poultry Press', PhD (History), 2015.


I engage widely with the science, literary and arts sectors. Recent engagement events include:

Upcoming events will be posted on the Centre for Science in Society blog and Twitter.

Find me on Twitter @rkpriestley

Selected Publications

Books and contributions to books

  • Priestley, R. (2019). Fifteen Million Years in Antarctica, Wellington, New Zealand: Victoria University Press.
  • Priestley, R. (2018). Lucky to be here. In N. Arnold (Ed.), Headlands. Wellington, New Zealand: Victoria University Press.
  • Priestley, R. (Ed.) (2016). Dispatches from Continent Seven: an anthology of Antarctic science. Wellington: Awa Press.
  • Hindmarsh, R., & Priestley, R. (Eds.). (2016). The Fukushima Effect: a new geopolitical terrain. New York, USA, London, UK: Routledge.
  • Priestley, R. (2016). The Fukushima Effect in New Zealand: a historical perspective from a 'nuclear-free' country. In Hindmarsh, R., & Priestley, R. (Eds.), The Fukushima Effect: A New Geopolitical Terrain. New York, USA, London, UK: Routledge.
  • Priestley, R. (2015). The Rotorua Bathhouse radium activator: from therapeutic device to quack curiosity. In A. Cooper, L. Paterson & A. Wanhalla (Eds.), The Lives of Colonial Objects. Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago University Press.
  • Priestley, R. (2012). Mad on Radium: New Zealand in the Atomic Age. New Zealand: Auckland University Press.

Journal articles

  • Priestley, R., Dohaney, J., Atkins, C., Salmon, R., & Robinson, K. (2018). Engaging new Antarctic learners and ambassadors through flexible learning, open education and immersive video lectures, Polar Record. doi:10.1017/S0032247418000384
  • Priestley, R. (2017). “Andrew Stuhl. Unfreezing the Arctic: Science, colonialism, and the transformation of Inuit lands”. Isis, 4, 940-941. doi:10.1086/695461
  • Priestley, R. (2017). Dr Wohlmann’s radon cure: the story of the Rotorua Bathhouse radium activator. Chemistry in New Zealand, 81, 162-165.
  • Salmon, R., Priestley, R., Fontana, M., & Milfont, T. (2017). Climate change communication in Aotearoa New Zealand. In M. C. Nisbet, S. S. Ho, E. Markowitz, S. O’Neill, M. S. Schäfer, & J. Thaker (Eds., Oxford Encyclopedia of Climate Change Communication. Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190228620.013.475
  • Salmon, R. A., Priestley R. K. & Goven, J. (2017). The reflexive scientist: An approach to transforming public engagement. Journal for Environmental Studies and Sciences, 7, 53-68. doi: 10.1007/s13412-015-0274-4
  • Salmon, R. A. & Priestley, R. K. (2015). A future for public engagement with science in New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 45, 1-7. doi:10.1080/03036758.2015.1023320
  • Priestley, R. (2014). Hitching a Ride: Nature knows no borders. Griffith Review, 43, 66-74. (reprinted in

Encyclopedia entries

Creative non-fiction published online