PhD student wins Early Career Physics Communicator Award

25 November 2015

PhD student Jessica Wade has won an IOP prize for physics communication after impressing the judges with her drive and enthusiasm in public engagement.

PhD student Jessica Wade

Wade was one of four finalists competing for the Early Career Physics Communicator Award, an annual prize given by the Institute’s Physics Communicators Group, at an event held by the group on 23 November.

She described her wide-ranging involvement in outreach activities, including visiting more than 100 schools, setting up a Women in Physics Group at Imperial College where she is undertaking her PhD, running a series of lectures at an east London school and serving on the Young Women’s Board of Women Into Science and Engineering (WISE).

Wade has also been involved in open days at Imperial and a Greenlight for Girls day, as well as winning the Colour Zone in the I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here competition, which involved answering 192 questions from school students online.

Her hectic schedule prompted one member of the audience to ask: “How do you fit in your research?” But Wade said she did not allow her research – on the molecular orientation of organic semiconductors – to slacken off. “I think you can manage it but you have to be friends with everyone; keeping people on your side makes it possible,” she said.

Her prize of £250 and a certificate was presented by materials scientist, writer and broadcaster Professor Mark Miodownik, who also presented runners-up certificates to Francesca Day, a PhD student in particle physics at the University of Oxford; Rebecca Douglas, a PhD student working on gravitational waves at the University of Glasgow; and Rebecca Smethurst, a PhD student in astrophysics at the University of Oxford.

Miodownik was also a judge for the awards and the guest speaker at the event. His talk on “Materials for the 21st century” explored the central role of materials in defining the ages of human civilisation and looked at possible future advances, such as self-healing concrete and organs grown in the lab, some of which were already being developed. Physicists would need to collaborate closely with biologists, artists, designers and others from the outset in creating new materials, he said, which underlined the importance of public engagement in science.

Speaking after receiving her award, Wade paid tribute to the other finalists and expressed surprise at having won. “I am staggered because I never realised that other people could have done work that was so impressive. I think UK research is full of incredible scientists doing amazing things and it’s a privilege to communicate physics,” she said.