UCL postdoc Emma Chapman wins Very Early Career Woman Physicist Award

24 October 2014

Postdoctoral research fellow Emma Chapman has won the Very Early Career Woman Physicist of the Year Award, which is conferred by the IOP’s Women in Physics Group (WIPG).

Emma Chapman

Chapman is a first-year postdoc in the cosmology research group at University College London (UCL), where her research includes the epoch of reionisation and observing 21-cm radiation from neutral hydrogen. She is involved in using the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) radio telescope to observe the births of the first stars and will be using the Square Kilometre Array when it is constructed.

In a talk at the prizegiving ceremony on 22 October she described her research and her activities in supporting women in physics, including serving on the UCL Juno Committee, the IOP Diversity and Inclusion Committee and a forum for postdocs at the university where advise and support is given to both women and men who are at that stage in their careers.

Introducing the event, the chair of the WIPG, Heather Williams, said the award was designed to recognise women who were not only making a substantial contribution in their fields but were also inspiring other women, as well as men, to come forward. The runners-up were Joanna Brunker, a postdoc with an EPSRC fellowship at UCL, and Jena Meinecke, a postgraduate student at the University of Oxford, who also gave talks about their research.

Chapman received £1,000 in prize money, and she and the runners-up were each presented with the book Out of the Shadows: contributions of 20th century women to physics and a certificate by Syrie Crouch, vice-president for hydrocarbon exploration and maturation at Shell, which sponsored the prize.

She said that the company was interested in research across a wide range of fields and would “beg, borrow and steal” ideas that could have applications in the oil industry. Shell was proud to sponsor the awards as it recognised that companies with a diverse workforce performed better and it had “a vested interest in reaching and pulling more women into the technical sphere”, she said.

At the prizegiving, the audience also heard a guest lecture from Kate Shaw, a postdoctoral fellow at the Abdus Salam Centre for Theoretical Physics, who has also taught a master’s course in particle physics in the Middle East.

She explained that in places such as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, physics is a popular choice for women at university, where many undergraduate courses have 70% to 80% female students, though the proportion is far lower at faculty level. Palestinian society did not share the West’s view of physics as a masculine subject, she said, though young men were less keen to study physics as they did not see it as a gateway to a well-paid career.

Following the presentation, Chapman said she was very pleased to have won, though she was surprised, as she had been suffering from “genuine imposter syndrome”. “I thought the other two were streets ahead of me,” she said.

For more about the award, click here.