President speaks up for physics in a changing world at annual Awards Dinner

8 November 2017

The national landscape is changing and we cannot take political support for physics for granted, IOP President Professor Dame Julia Higgins told an audience gathered for the Institute of Physics’ annual awards ceremony yesterday.

President speaks up for physics in a changing world at annual Awards Dinner

In the opening speech for the Institute’s Awards Dinner in London, she said: “While the government has committed to increasing the spending on science, there is no guarantee that physics will receive the share it needs to stay world-class.”

Outlining some of the challenges facing the UK, she said: “We all know we are in tough times. We are witnessing the restructure of our major research funding bodies with the introduction of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Brexit threatens our workforce, our access to facilities and the availability of significant funding.

“A recent report that compares international research shows that the UK still does punch above its weight as a research nation, but our share of global R&D expenditure has dropped while others are experiencing double digit increases. If only.”

This was why the IOP was working, together with the science community, to try to ensure that the UK and Ireland are “the places to come to do world-class physics”, she said.

Outlining the IOP’s work on researcher mobility, maintaining international collaborations and participation in future framework programmes through the science minister’s Brexit committee, she also pointed to the Institute’s work on the Physics 2020 project and its reports demonstrating the importance of physics to the UK and Irish economies.

It was encouraging to see that such policy and advocacy work could pay off, she said. “Our long-term advocacy work in Ireland, working alongside the Irish astrophysics community, has just recently led to Ireland’s commitment to join the European Southern Observatory.”

President speaks up for physics in a changing world at annual Awards Dinner

She also spoke about the IOP’s work to change the structure of its membership this year to make it more inclusive, fit for purpose, offer clearer value to members and increase member engagement and the work going on to improve the IOP’s digital presence.

The Institute had launched a new 10-month long programme in Tanzania, Future STEM Business Leaders, to train and encourage students to understand how to develop new business ideas. “Crucially, our Tanzanian partners are now leading the programme, with just support and guidance from us.”

The IOP was addressing the “still-woeful shortage of physics teachers” and had brought 130 new teachers into the profession through the Teacher Training Scholarships, while it was continuing to tackle the vital issue of too few girls studying physics, she said.

“We now understand that we can only shift the balance by using a blended approach, working with students, physics teachers and – really importantly – the whole school staff. It’s the school culture that has to change and we’re aiming to build girls’ confidence and destroy the damaging stereotypes.”

The IOP’s outreach programme was aiming to reach those without a physics background – “people who just don’t think physics is for them” – she said, and introduced a video of pupils at Gillespie Primary School in Islington, near to the IOP’s new home in King’s Cross, with whom the Institute has been working.

Comedian and self-described “geek songstress” Helen Arney entertained the dinner guests, then Professor Higgins presented the Institute’s awards and prizes.

She conferred four honorary fellowships, the IOP’s highest honour, then presented the IOP’s awards for Best Practice in Professional Development, Juno Champions, Teachers of Physics, and Business Innovation, as well as the Phillips Award, the Bronze early career awards, the Silver subject medals, the Gold medals, the international bilateral awards and the Isaac Newton Medal and Prize, which were announced by IOP staff members James Jackson-Ellis and Lara Maisey.

The call for nominations for the Institute of Physics 2018 awards is now open.

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