2022 Jocelyn Bell Burnell Medal and Prize

Amy Smith for exceptional contributions to physics education and efforts to reducing barriers to progression and increasing sense of belonging amongst underrepresented groups.


Award winner Amy Smith

Amy Smith is a pioneering physics education researcher whose novel work on sense of belonging in physics is revolutionising how social science methodologies can be used to improve physics education in the UK. Her PhD research offers a cross-disciplinary analysis of the social norms, unconscious biases and culture of physics within higher education, and how these factors influence behaviour, authenticity and sense of belonging.

Putting her research into action, Smith was instrumental in restarting the Women in Physics Society, which now has over 300 members. It is the first women's only society to be accredited by the IOP and has secured over £5,000 in funding. As president, Smith has overseen the organisation of events; from a series of machine learning workshops in partnership with the University of Oxford and University College London, to talks on imposter syndrome, sexual harassment, the menopause and intersectionality in physics. Smith is organising a £10,000 research culture and professional development project for physicists from historically marginalised groups, designed to equip participants with the skills to progress in academia and industry, ultimately creating an intergenerational support network.

Smith developed and supervised a student-partnership research project that investigated how the cancellation of A-level exams affected undergraduate students’ test anxiety and self-efficacy. The findings were shared at the Variety in Chemistry Education and Physics Higher Education Conference and received a special mention for the IOP Higher Education Group Lillian McDermott Prize. In recognition of her work, Smith was invited to talk at the University of Leipzig and has also been on several panels at UK conferences discussing equity and diversity within physics.

She is currently working on two further student-partnership projects. The first is investigating physics teaching preferences, with the goal to increase representation of women in senior teaching positions, thereby creating more role models for students. The second is in partnership with the IOP, developing a collection of resources for UK universities to give recognition to the diverse history and background of physics in their curriculum.

Smith has a strong track record in the effort to diversify physics. As a secondary teacher, she founded a partnership with the University of Birmingham and ran a series of Girls Science Clubs that introduced girls to women working within STEM. Her passion for teaching was recognised by the IOP Teacher Training Scholarship and she has continued to support secondary school students through volunteer tutoring and as an outreach lead.