Top medal goes to physicist Robert Woodward in SET for Britain contest

10 March 2015

Postgraduate laser physicist Robert Woodward was awarded the highest prize in the SET for Britain poster competition, held at Westminster to encourage early-career scientists and foster dialogue between scientists and politicians.

Robert Woodward

Woodward, a researcher at Imperial College London, won the Gold Medal in the physics category of the competition and went on to be chosen as the overall winner, receiving the Westminster Medal and a prize of £3000. The competition attracted a large number of entrants and 29 were shortlisted to present their work in front of MPs, peers and scientists at the event in parliament on 9 March.

A panel of expert judges assessed the finalists’ work, including Woodward’s presentation of his research on the development of ultrafast laser technologies by exploiting the optical properties of new nanomaterials such as graphene.

Woodward said: “It was a fantastic experience to share my work at parliament and to see so much fascinating innovation from young UK researchers. I was delighted and honoured to receive the Physics Gold Medal and Westminster Medal for my laser research, especially as this year marks the International Year of Light – a worldwide celebration of the impact of light science and applications, in which laser technologies play a major role.”

Frances Saunders, president of the Institute of Physics (IOP), said: “SET for Britain is a great opportunity for some of the country’s most impressive scientific talent to show off their research to politicians from across the UK. I hope every exhibitor feels incredibly proud to have had their research shortlisted, and excited to show it off. I am especially pleased that the winner of the physics section went on to win the Westminster Medal.”

There were five categories in the competition – biological and biomedical science, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, and physics – with gold, silver and bronze medals awarded in each.

The winner of the Silver Medal in the physics category was Elena Andra Muntean, a research fellow at Queen’s University Belfast. Her presentation of her research on dust and ice, and the birthplace of new molecules in interstellar space as a result of low energy ion irradiation, won her a prize of £2000. She said: “I am so pleased that the research we do at Queen’s University Belfast was highly appreciated at this competition in the House of Commons and really look forward to taking my success back to my research group.”

The Bronze Medal and a prize of £1000 went to Jason Hunt, a PhD researcher at University College London’s Mullard Space Laboratory, for the presentation of his research, which focuses on constructing a global model of the Milky Way from the data returned by the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite.

He said: “There were a lot of excellent posters at this year’s event and I’m very proud to have been awarded the Bronze Medal. I would like to thank the organising committee and the sponsors for making this event possible and allowing me to bring my research to parliament. With the recent launch of Gaia, we are now entering an exciting time for galactic astronomy. I hope that my poster has shown people one of the many things that we can do with this data.”

Andrew Miller MP, who chairs the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, said: “This annual competition is an important date in the parliamentary calendar because it gives MPs an opportunity to speak to a wide range of the country’s best young researchers. These early career scientists are the architects of our future and SET for Britain is politicians’ best opportunity to meet them and understand their work.”

The SET for Britain Gold Medal was sponsored by BP, the Silver Medal by the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, and the Bronze Medal by John Wiley and Sons.

The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee runs the event in collaboration with the Council for Mathematical Sciences, the Institute of Physics, The Physiological Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Society of Biology and the Society of Chemical Industry, with financial support from BP, the Clay Mathematics Institute, Essar, INEOS, Warwick Manufacturing Group, Wiley, the Bank of England and the Institute of Biomedical Science.