Women in Physics Conference at the City of London: School for Girls - 1 March 2016

5 September 2016

“We found organising this event an extremely rewarding experience (and hopefully those who attended also felt this way!) and I hope it showed those who came (boys and girls alike) just how varied and fascinating physics really is, and what interesting careers the study of physics can lead to, regardless of gender.”

Attending an all girls school, my friends and I have always been very lucky in that no subjects were seen as off-limits simply because they were male dominated – in a year of just under ninety pupils, twenty of us take A2-Level Physics and numerous girls are hoping to pursue further studies in STEM subjects. However it still remains an unavoidable fact that women are far less likely to go into STEM-related careers, physics and engineering in particular, than men. Whilst
discussing this issue, my friend Annabel and I noticed that although we have had numerous talks at school about
engineering, there had been little opportunity to meet real-life, female physicists, and we felt that this would really help to encourage girls to continue studying the subject, especially as there is such little representation of women in physics in mainstream media. So we decided to hold a Women in Physics conference at our school, an opportunity for pupils at our school and from other schools around London to hear about the amazing work in which some female physicists have been involved, in the hope of encouraging younger pupils to continue their study of physics.

We decided that we wanted to have three fairly accessible talks about a range of specialist areas of physics, to ensure that the event would appeal not only to those studying physics, but also to those who may not yet have extensive knowledge of the subject, but who find it interesting. We also wanted our speakers to address the current lack of women in the subject, and perhaps why they think this persists and what we can do to help make a change. We contacted the Institute of Physics and we were able to confirm three talks for the event: Elinor Bailey, who teaches at UCL, to speak about light and luminescence, Mairi Sakellariadou, a professor in theoretical physics at King’s College, speaking about cosmology and theoretical physics, and Joanna Brunker, a research physicist at Cambridge, to speak about her work in medical physics alongside Daniel Portelli, a PhD student of mathematical modelling.

The event was attended by around 80 pupils between the ages of 15 and 18 as well as their teachers from numerous schools around London, and it was a success! All three talks were extremely interesting and quite different. Elinor Bailey brought some equipment with her and showed us some of the things you can do with UV light, as well as incorporating some chemistry with physics to explain luminescence and phosphorescence; Mairi Sakellariadou spoke about her career path and some of the extremely fascinating work that is going into exploring our universe and the way it works, and Joanna Brunker and Daniel Portelli explained some of the ways that physics can be applied to medical science, and the different routes available for pupils interested in physics. There was sufficient time at the end of each talk for the audience to ask questions, and I think this was extremely beneficial for those students considering further study or careers in physics.

Hollie Marks