The Swarm was not only a great success for its author Frank Schätzing, but for the oceanographers based at GEOMAR Kiel too. First published in German in 2004, this science fiction novel at once drew widespread attention to the institute and its research into gas hydrates. Frank Schätzing’s masterly fusion of scientific fact and the aura of the unknown - of the still largely unexplored world of the deep sea - created the basis for a science fiction thriller that has now sold over four million copies in twenty-seven countries.

With his novel, Schätzing has given countless readers some insight into oceanography’s frequently complex subject matter. In subsequent publications and film projects such as his three-part documentary Universum der Ozeane for German broadcaster ZDF, Schätzing again turns his attention to the sea, a subject both stimulating and all but inexhaustible in its wealth of topics.

Till Keulen of Deutsche Bank (left) and GEOMAR’s director Professor Peter Herzig presenting the 2011 German Ocean Award to author Frank Schätzing. Photograph: J. Steffen, GEOMAR

In recognition of his achievements in communicating marine science to a popular audience, Frank Schätzing was awarded the ‘Deutscher Meerespreis’ in 2011. The presentation was held on 23 May 2011 at the GEOMAR Institute in Kiel. “Frank Schätzing closely studied the complex issues of marine research, and then successfully applied the sound knowledge he had gained to his work as an author. He really wanted to understand how everything is connected - even if he rightly took the liberty of later using his authorial licence to blur the boundaries between reality and fiction. For that very reason the public perception of GEOMAR has always been very positive; this has helped it achieve unheard-of fame”, according to GEOMAR’s director Peter Herzig. Till Keulen of Deutsche Bank emphasized that science and economics are often complex, and that it was therefore all the more important to encourage, in as many young people as possible, a sense of enthusiasm for the phenomena and questions associated with these subjects. He said the work of the prizewinner in 2011 revealed the great potential in science communication when links were forged between reality and fiction.

The television presenter and science journalist Karsten Schwanke in his laudatory address stressed the importance of having riveting stories to tell when communicating science. Photograph: J. Steffen, GEOMAR

“Without Frank Schätzing and his novel The Swarm, it is likely that hardly anyone outside the scientific community would yet know what gas hydrates are”, Karsten Schwanke said. Schätzing had succeeded in presenting challenging scientific subjects in an appealing narrative full of suspense. In preparing his successful novel, the author undertook intensive research at the GEOMAR Institute in Kiel, and consulted experts such as Professor Erwin Suess and Professor Gerhard Bohrmann. By way of thanks, both they and other scientists - and indeed the GEOMAR Institute itself - appear in the plot of the novel. In the author’s later projects, too, GEOMAR oceanographers continued to figure prominently. “The scientists at GEOMAR were always very obliging, and with a great deal of patience explained to me the complexities of contemporary marine research”, the prizewinner said.

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