Jena Meinecke wins award for early-career female physicists at the IOP

6 November 2015

An astrophysicist who recreates miniature supernovae in the lab has won this year’s Very Early Career Female Physicist Award (VECFPA).

Dr Jena Meinecke

Dr Jena Meinecke, a junior research fellow at Christ Church College, Oxford, said she was very excited to have won and though she wants to stay in academia, her next move may be into space. She is serious about wanting to be an astronaut and is currently getting in shape by exercising as she prepares to apply for NASA’s astronaut programme.

Her objective is not to be the first person on Mars, however. “It’s a one-way journey at the moment so I would be more interested in going to the International Space Station. I study astronomical objects so it would be something to be that much closer to my research,” she said.

Meinecke conducts experiments to reproduce the magnetic fields associated with objects such as supernovae on a tiny scale by creating plasmas and subjecting them to shock waves and turbulence. The aim is to determine how small magnetic fields originating in the early universe could have been scaled up to the size that we observe today. Her team's work on the magnetic field inside Cassiopeia A was named one of the top 10 breakthroughs of 2014 by Physics World.

The VECFPA prize, which is conferred by the IOP's Women in Physics Group (WIPG), is given for outreach work as well as contributions to research, and Meinecke has been involved in several outreach activities, including setting up the Oxford Women in Physics Society. Some were doubtful about the group at first, but now it has gained widespread support and runs a programme of mentoring, informal events and a conference.

Meinecke was one of four finalists to give presentations at the IOP's London centre before the winner was announced, and certificates and a book were presented to all four by WIPG chair Dr Heather Williams.

The three runners-up were Maggie Lieu, a PhD student working on the mass measurement of galaxies at the University of Birmingham; Naomi Nickerson, a PhD student who is a theoretical physicist working in quantum computing at Imperial College London; and Jessica Wade who is doing a PhD on molecular orientation of organic semiconductors in the Department of Physics and Centre for Plastic Electronics at Imperial College London.

The prizes were sponsored by Shell and included a cheque for £1,000 for Meinecke. She said afterwards: “I'm incredibly thankful for receiving the award. When I applied, I didn't expect to get shortlisted, let alone win. The other shortlisted candidates were phenomenal – I was absolutely blown away by their accomplishments, initiatives and energy. I think the WIPG should be recognised for their effort to reward and identify young female leaders in physics. I’m excited to share this award with my research group and family who have supported me throughout the years.”