Brian Cox cheers on the IOP’s fundraising campaign

24 September 2013

A fundraising campaign to raise £10m for the Institute over the next five years was launched yesterday with the help of high-profile physicists Prof. Brian Cox and Prof. Jim Al-Khalili.

Both played a key part in the launch events, and video messages of support from Nobel Prize winner Prof. Sir Konstantin Novoselov, rock musician and astrophysicist Brian May and soft-matter physicist Prof. Dame Athene Donald were played at a campaign dinner. For the evening event, items prepared using physics techniques such as freezing a drink with liquid nitrogen were served to around 100 guests.

During the dinner, Prof. Cox took the role of interviewer to quiz key players in the Institute’s activities as well as some individuals who have benefited from its programmes. Similar interviews were conducted by Prof. Al-Khalili at an afternoon exhibition to showcase the IOP’s work.

Prof. Al-Khalili said there was a groundswell of enthusiasm for physics again and things were moving in the right direction, but more had to be done to keep physics to the fore. “I believe there is no better organisation to push this forward than the IOP,” he said.

As a science communicator, he believed Britain was way ahead of the rest of the world in public engagement in science, he said. Interviewing the IOP’s head of public engagement, Caitlin Watson, he heard about the Institute’s commitment to physics outreach. But she explained that considerably more people could have experiences like seeing its collaborative art installation, Covariance, if more resources were available.

Similarly, the IOP’s associate director for education and planning, Phil Diamond, said that the Institute was already supporting and representing the research community, raising its profile and supporting groups in 50 sub-disciplines. It was also helping to maintain rigorous standards in undergraduate programmes and nurturing new research talent, but with greater resources it could, for example, provide more research placements for undergraduates. Fourth-year undergraduate Alasdair Price told the audience how undertaking an IOP-funded placement had helped him to decide to seek a PhD place.

The IOP’s head of education and science, Prof. Peter Main, told Prof. Al-Khalili that the IOP was addressing physics teacher shortages and the low proportion of girls taking physics A-level. It had persuaded the government to recruit people to teach physics as a specialism and not just science, and to allow trainees to specialise in physics and maths. It had launched the IOP Teacher Training Scholarships and its “jewel in the crown”, the Stimulating Physics Programme, was steadily increasing the number of students taking physics A-level. Jessica Hamer, a teacher at a school participating in the programme, spoke enthusiastically about the IOP’s involvement. More could be done, Prof. Main said, but this was limited by the cash available.

John Brindley, the IOP’s head of business and innovation, told Prof. Al-Khalili that the IOP advocated for that part of the physics community that was in business and tried to encourage an environment in which physics-based businesses could thrive. It worked to ensure that people in these industries felt part of the physics community, and was pleased with the IOP’s Innovation Awards, which this year will be presented by business secretary Vince Cable at an event in parliament. Rimas Juskaitis, managing director of Aurox Ltd, which won one of the awards in 2012, said it had given his company a “standard of credibility” and a “badge of honour”. Stephen Hibbert, an undergraduate at the University of Birmingham, spoke about the benefits he had gained from an IOP-funded industry placement at Oxford Instruments.

The IOP’s director of communications and international relations, Beth Taylor, said the IOP had a mission to “advance physics for the benefit of all”, which meant that its activities could not be confined to the UK and Ireland. She spoke about the IOP’s expanding programme of entrepreneurial workshops in developing countries and its IOP for Africa project, which was now working in nine countries to enable teachers to use practical physics in the classroom. “In some ways it’s a drop in the ocean but I like to think that it’s a drop that makes a difference,” she said. Prof. Al-Khalili also interviewed Joe Brock, who co-ordinates the programme in Tanzania. He said there was “massive potential” in the country and he would like to see the programme extended across Tanzania.

Encouraging people to give financially and in other ways to the campaign, the IOP’s outgoing president, Prof. Sir Peter Knight, said: “The IOP is in really good shape and we have this tremendous track record of success. It’s enormously promising for the future if only we could expand it more. To make the drops in the ocean bigger, we need much greater resources. We are on a high now – we want to make much more of a difference in the future.”

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