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CienciaPR nabs ‘Breakthrough of the Year’ award at Falling Walls Science Summit

“Aquí Nos Cuidamos,” a community engagement project run by nonprofit organization Ciencia Puerto Rico (CienciaPR), was named “Breakthrough of the Year 2021” in the category of Science Engagement at the Falling Walls Science Summit, held Nov. 7-9 in Berlin, Germany.

This award honors the most outstanding project breaking the wall between science and society.

In August, “Aquí Nos Cuidamos” was chosen as one of 20 winners of the Falling Walls Engage pitch competition, which recognizes projects that connect and involve the public with science, from among 189 initiatives in 80 countries.

On Nov. 7, the initiative was named “Breakthrough of the Year 2021” by an international jury after initiative director Mónica Feliú-Mójer pitched it during an all-day summit. “Aquí Nos Cuidamos” is the first project from Puerto Rico and the Caribbean to win since the competition was created in 2018, the nonprofit confirmed.

“It was something good that has come out of what has happened to the world recently and was not only breaking the wall between science and society but it was building community, solidarity, and new forms of expertise and knowledge,” said Melanie Smallman, associate professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at University College London and chair of the international jury of Falling Walls Engage when announcing “Aquí Nos Cuidamos” as the award winner.

The recognition earned “Aquí Nos Cuidamos” a spot on the main stage of the Falling Walls Science Summit on Nov. 9. There, Feliú-Mójer presented the project alongside world-renowned scientists like Özlem Türeci of BioNtech, which developed the Pfizer-BioNtech mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine, and Nobel Laureate in Physics Donna Strickland, among others.

“Representing ‘Aquí Nos Cuidamos’ and Puerto Rico on an international platform like Falling Walls was incredibly special,” said Feliú-Mójer.

“What honors me the most is that the award recognizes the essence of what it is to be Puerto Rican; our sense of community and solidarity, which combined with science, has saved thousands of lives during the pandemic,” said Feliú-Mójer, who also directs communications and science outreach for CienciaPR.

“This award also recognizes the hard work of ‘Aquí Nos Cuidamos’’ team, our community ambassadors, and partners, and pays tribute to the accomplishments of the CienciaPR community, which has been putting science in service of Puerto Rico for the past 15 years. This award belongs to all of them,” she added.

“Aquí Nos Cuidamos,” which turned a year old in September 2021, consists of a multimedia education toolkit and a community engagement program. The toolkit includes four public service campaigns focused on COVID-19 prevention and vaccination, and mental health.

The community engagement program features a community ambassador program, workshops, community listening sessions and WhatsApp chats, and more than a dozen partnerships with non-profit organizations and other public and private entities.

“The past few years have been incredibly challenging for Puerto Rico, amidst hurricanes, earthquakes, and the COVID19 pandemic,” said Giovanna Guerrero-Medina, executive director of CienciaPR.

“Through these challenges, having a scientific community that is networked, visible, and empowered to engage with the public has been incredibly important. As we celebrate our 15th anniversary of democratizing science, it is very special to see our work recognized on an international stage,” she noted.

“The community ambassadors and CienciaPR team were glued to the livestream. As soon as we heard the jury chair say that the winning project represented something good that we got out of this, and the word ‘solidarity’ we knew that our warmth and sense of community had reached Berlin,” said project coordinator Edmy Ayala-Rosado.

Falling Walls is an international platform — inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 — for leaders from the world of science, business, politics, the arts, and society, seeking to break down barriers between various sectors. Falling Walls Engage connects creative individuals and organizations that actively engage the public with science to generate mutual benefits for science and society worldwide.

“At Falling Walls Engage we seek the most outstanding Science Engagement projects from all around the world, we invite them to Berlin to connect with peers and showcase their way of involving society in science,” said Anja Schoch, head of team and strategy at Falling Walls Engage.

“In the long-term we want to increase public trust in science and fact-based decision-making to tackle global societal challenges. ‘Aquí Nos Cuidamos’ is an exemplary initiative showing how community involvement impacts and benefits all stakeholders involved,” Schoch said.

“We congratulate Dr. Mónica Feliú Mójer and all Falling Walls Engage Winners and look forward to many future collaborations,” she said.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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