Dr Laura Dawes

Headshot of a woman in glass in front of a white brick wall.
Research Fellow

Content navigation


Laura Dawes is an award-winning historian, author and broadcaster, who is devoted to the vibrant communication of science, medicine and the law to the general public. Before returning to academia, Laura worked in print, radio and television news and entertainment media, including with the ABC and Wildbear Entertainment, and was awarded a Wellcome Trust/Guardian Science Writing Prize and the ABC’s Best Half Hour of Local Radio. Her history and science documentaries have been broadcast on, for example, PBS, the History Channel, BBC, and Smithsonian Television. Continuing her focus on public history, Laura’s research, writing and teaching investigates the history of modern science and particularly the history of medicine and the law. Laura regularly speaks and writes in the media and to the general community on a variety of medical, scientific and legal topics.

Dr Dawes's first book, CHILDHOOD OBESITY IN AMERICA: BIOGRAPHY OF AN EPIDEMIC, was published to wide acclaim in 2014. Her second book FIGHTING FIT: THE WARTIME BATTLE FOR BRITAIN’S HEALTH was shortlisted for ACT Book of the Year. Laura holds a PhD from Harvard University in History of Science, a Masters degree from Oxford University and a Bachelors degree in physics and mathematics from Murdoch University in Western Australia. She has received numerous awards, prizes and fellowships, including Vice-Chancellor's Awards for Academic Excellence, the Frank Gillespie Prize, the Ronald Searcy Prize, the Parnell O'Connor Prize for creative writing, and the Forbes Society award in Legal History.

  • PhD(Harvard), MSc(Oxon), BSc(Hons) (Murdoch)
  • Frank Knox Fellow (Harvard)
  • Clarendon Fund Scholar (Oxford)
  • Chevening Scholar (Oxford)
  • Warren Centre Fellow (Harvard)
  • Bicentennial Scholar (Australia)
  • University Medal (Science) (Murdoch)


  • Australian Society of Authors
  • Australian Historical Association
  • Australia New Zealand Society for Legal History
  • Australia New Zealand Society for the History of Medicine
  • Centre for Law, Arts and the Humanities
  • History and Legacies of Violence Research Network
  • NECTAR (Network for Early Career Researchers)


Research interests

  • the intersection of science/medicine, public policy and the law
  • public communication of science/medicine and public health, including communication to specialized audiences outside of science such as the law
  • history of public health and health promotion
  • media, health and the law
  • quackery and misinformation
  • public health in emergencies
  • using the law to communicate and advance health policy
  • health activism/patient activism

Current projects

  • "A Sunburnt Country" (book) : the connection between sun and skin cancer, and public communication efforts in 20th and 21st century Australia.
  • Introduction and communication of novel scientific evidence in the Australian legal system: the 1989 Applebee case (Australia’s first DNA case)
  • Communicating and Constituting the Law: Rhetoric of the Plain Language Movement in Australia
  • The Quack and the Hacks: The Role of the Media in Promoting Cancer Quack Milan Brych
  • Legal Creativity and Control: Commonwealth Responses to Cancer Quack Milan Brych
  • Compulsory Licensing for Pharmaceutical Patents in Britain During WWII: Lessons for Public Health in Emergencies
  • Why is it so? Julius Sumner Miller and the History of Popular Science Communication in Australia, 1963-1986

Supervised students


Dawes, Laura. Fighting Fit: The Wartime Battle for Britain’s Health. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2016.

Dawes, Laura, and Karen Cass,. Fighting Fit: The Wartime Battle for Britain’s Health. Audiobook. Orion Publishing Group, 2016.

Dawes, Laura. Childhood Obesity in America: Biography of an Epidemic. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.

Dawes, Laura. One Hundred Years of Audiology and Deaf Education at Manchester University (1919-2019). (1st edition 2015, 2nd edition 2019). Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2019.

Dawes, Laura. “A Short History of Sunscreen, from Basting like a Chook to Preventing Skin Cancer.” The Conversation, December 23, 2023. 

Dawes, Laura. “Ozempic Is in the Spotlight but It’s Just the Latest in a Long and Strange History of Weight-Loss Drugs.” The Conversation, August 8, 2023. 

Dawes, Laura. “Folbigg Pardon: Science Is Changing Rapidly, and the Law Needs to Change with It.” The Conversation, June 14, 2023. 

Dawes, Laura. “Submission to ACT Government Review of Heritage Arrangements in the Australian Capital Territory.” Canberra, 2023.

Dawes, Laura. “Section 92 of the Australian Constitution: A Hallowe’en Horror.” Lawyers Weekly, October 31, 2022. 

Dawes, Laura. “‘Just a Quack Who Can Cure Cancer’: John Braund and the Regulation of Cancer Treatment in Australia.” Medical History 57, no. 2 (2013): 206–25.

Dawes, Laura. “When Subjects Bite Back: The Bristol Cancer Help Centre Study and Increasing Consumer Involvement in UK Medical Research in the 1990s.” Social History of Medicine 25, no. 2 (2012): 500–519.

“How to Lose a War.” Wildbear Entertainment, 2023.

“The 100 Days That Defined Modern History.” Wildbear Entertainment, 2022.

“Weeks of War.” Wildbear Entertainment/Sky History, 2022.