Quantum engineering student wins physics gold at SET for Britain

9 March 2016

PhD student Euan Allen has won the gold award for physics in the SET for Britain poster competition held in Westminster on 7 March.

SET for Britain

Allen, who is on a quantum engineering doctoral training programme at the University of Bristol, received the Cavendish Medal and a prize of £3000 at the finals of the competition, which is held to showcase some of the UK’s frontier R&D in parliament and to foster dialogue between early-career researchers and peers and MPs.

More than 500 researchers applied for the chance to take part in the poster exhibition, and they were whittled down to 210 across all the science categories then to 30 in the physics section. Allen presented a poster on “Quantum enhanced sensing: pushing photons to the limit”, explaining his research at the university, where he is based at its Centre for Doctoral Training and joined a research group in September 2015.

After receiving the prize, Allen said: “I’m really glad and surprised. I had a quick look round at the exhibition and there’s some really high quality, interesting science going on. It was surprising that the judges found my work as exciting and interesting as the rest of them.”

Originally from Oxford, where he attended the former Peers School, Allen paid tribute to his former maths and physics teachers there, who had inspired him to pursue a career in research, he said.

The silver award of £2000 went to PhD student Rox Middleton for presenting her poster on “Biomimetic optical materials made of cellulose”, which described her research in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on the microstructure of shining rainforest fruit, and engineering brightly coloured materials using the same principles. Middleton, who is originally from Shropshire, said: “I am really happy. I am surprised because I wasn’t expecting it.”

The bronze award of £1000 went to Nikolaos Papaioannou for his poster “From biowaste to fluorescent quantum dots”. His research is on sustainably synthesizing carbon nanoparticles to use for bio-imaging, including targeting cancer cells to understand more about their cellular structure. Originally from Greece, he is a researcher in the School of Physics and Astronomy at Queen Mary University of London. He said of winning the award: “I think it’s exciting. It’s really nice that your work is being approved – it motivates you to continue and to improve your work.”

All three winners in the physics category are members of the Institute of Physics, whose president, Professor Roy Sambles, presented the prizes. Addressing all of the finalists, he said: “You are terribly important; you are the future.” He said that many exciting discoveries would be made in the years to come. “Studying physics also gives you a skill base that’s useful in our advanced society,” he said, adding that many industries needed the input of people like them. “It can be tough to keep going but the journey is exciting and challenging,” he said.

SET for Britain

A number of MPs visited the exhibition, including some whose constituents were competition finalists displaying posters. Among the MPs was leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn, whose constituent Roberta Guilizzoni, from University College London (pictured with Corbyn), was presenting a poster on “Electromagnetic induction imaging of concealed metallic objects”.

The prize-giving (pictured) was introduced by Dr Stephen Benn, vice-president of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, which organised the event with the support of a number of learned societies, including the IOP, and business sponsors. The committee’s chair, Stephen Metcalfe, said the competition had been established by the late Dr Eric Wharton to encourage early-career researchers to interact with parliamentarians. He told the finalists: “You are the true engine room of R&D. The success of the UK as a competitive knowledge economy is going to depend crucially upon your work.”