'Work with us', IOP president tells physics community in Awards Dinner speech

16 October 2014

The IOP needs the whole of the physics community to be involved as it launches a new drive to boost the impact of its work, the Institute's president, Frances Saunders, said in a speech at its annual Awards Dinner on 15 October.


Speaking to an audience of award-winners, guests and colleagues from other scientific societies, she said: "The Institute is nothing without its members and its friends. That’s why at the very heart of our strategy is a strand of work that we are labelling Community. We should never forget that we are a scientific community and one that works within an international context.

"We also need you, and your colleagues, to be engaged with and inspired by what we do. Reaching out to our members, the branches, the groups, our teacher community, we need you to join us in addressing the agenda we are setting out in our strategy and work with us in shaping how it is delivered in future years."

The new five-year strategy is due to be launched early in 2015 and will focus on five priority areas: Education, Economy, Society, Discovery and Community, she said. Mentioning the IOP's work in all of these, she also thanked the Institute's volunteers in its branches, groups, boards and committees and its conference organisers.

Describing some markers of success, she said entries to A-level physics had risen for the eighth successive year, now numbering 37,000. Ten universities had decided to reinstate or create an undergraduate physics offering in response to strong student demand, while the IOP had three important pilot schemes underway that were aimed at increasing the take-up of physics among girls.

More needed to be done, however. "There is also a massive gulf between different ethnic and socio-economic groups' perception of the opportunities that a strong school education in physics offers. More research is needed to understand the nature and depth of this wider problem and you can expect to hear more on this from us in the near future."

The physics community was well aware of the importance of physics to the economy, how it underpins the most exciting new developments in many areas of science and engineering, and how it has served to transform our lives. "But it is our job to keep promoting that message, until we are sick of saying it – by which time others may just about have got the message," she said. "We must also continue to work to maintain high levels of political support for science. We should not take such support for granted. Politicians and their viewpoints change."

The IOP had been responsible for pioneering methods to engage the public with science, she said. "We were one of the first to take science demonstrations out to events like music festivals, and start to demonstrate the popular appeal of physics. However, the rest of the world has now caught up with us so we’re planning to notch it up a few gears. The Institute is committing to reaching one million new people every year. You will be hearing much more from us on such outreach."


The Discovery strand in the strategy was about looking after the physics community's core discipline where curiosity and exploration came together, she said. After discussion with the community the IOP had concluded that it could be of most use by bringing researchers from the different disciplines or from different parts of the world together to enable new connections to be made that could be a catalyst for new thinking and new ideas, she said.

The IOP's president has the opportunity to choose the winner of the President's Medal once during their term in office, and she had chosen Prof. Douglas J Paul, Professor of Semiconductor Devices at the University of Glasgow and director of the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre. "This is actually a rare opportunity for me to highlight something that I am really passionate about and to celebrate someone who is working at the forefront of something that I think is really important," she said, which was enabling or translational research.

"Developing processing technologies, device fabrication techniques, instrumentation and the like, is not always the glamorous end of physics research; it can go unseen and unsung yet it is absolutely critical to translating the latest thinking in physics into something concrete that can benefit the economy and society."

Prof. Paul had already delivered stunning research results, enabling the prototyping and development of proof-of-concept devices in areas such as nano-electronics quantum laser technologies and energy harvesting techniques, she said. He had provided leadership to teams of researchers working in device fabrication technologies and had also had impact on government policy as an adviser to bodies such as the Cabinet Office High Impact Threats Expert Group and Scientific Expert Group for Emergencies (SAGE), and the Defence Science Advisory Committee. Prof. Paul then briefly addressed the audience.

Following dinner and a performance by a drumming group to mark the International Year of Light 2015, medals were presented to the award winners and honorary fellowships were conferred.

There were also presentations to representatives from the schools of physics and astronomy at the universities of Birmingham, Edinburgh and Nottingham, which have all achieved the status of Juno Champion during the past year. The IOP's Juno code of practice addresses the under-representation of women in higher-education physics and Juno Champions are recognised as making a substantial contribution towards this goal.

Full citations for all the award winners can be viewed here.