2022 William Thomson, Lord Kelvin Medal and Prize
Dr Sharon Ann Holgate for work in communicating science to a wide variety of audiences and for positive representations of scientists from non-traditional backgrounds.
Dr Sharon Ann Holgate is a science writer and broadcaster, spanning all areas of public engagement but particularly effective in engaging children. Disabled herself, she has shown how people from non-traditional backgrounds contribute to physics and science in general. She has worked inside academia via science communication training (Rhodes University, Imperial College London and King’s College London) and is one of the few non-academics to write an undergraduate textbook, Understanding Solid State Physics, using her expertise to create a book that is used around the world, now in a second edition with multimedia support. A great strength is her ability to make difficult ideas accessible.
She has co-written a children’s book The Way Science Works (2002), a highly illustrated introduction to physics and chemistry for 9–14 year-olds, translated into several languages and shortlisted for an Aventis Prize. From 2017–19, she wrote a series of books, Outside the Research Lab, describing the physics of art and design, transport, and sport, respectively, and is a contributor to two popular science books, 30-Second Energy and 30-Second Quantum Theory. A new book for adults has been published in 2022, Nuclear Fusion: The Race to Build a Mini-Sun on Earth.
Holgate has broadcast several radio programmes, including a documentary about Bose called The Indian Particle Man, highly praised and shortlisted for an Association of British Science Writers award. She devised and presented a BBC Radio 4 ‘science pantomime’, Jack and the Genetically Modified Beanstalk, and a BBC World Service mini-series, E = MC Shaz, investigating the claims some pop music lyrics make about science. She has appeared as a contestant on a ‘Boffins Special’ of The Weakest Link, on Chris Evans’ BBC Radio 2 programme and on The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry on BBC Radio 4.
Holgate has appeared in countless other broadcasts and written numerous articles. Her regular articles for Science Careers (2011–18) often featured scientists who were disabled or from disadvantaged groups. She has written a brochure series for the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM) highlighting how physics and engineering research is used to benefit patients. She has also been a collaborator with several learned societies, including the Royal Society and the IOP, in producing policy papers.
Holgate has presented several live science shows including two Science and Magic shows for the Jewish Museum, one of which required an extra show to be scheduled. Of particular resonance was a show presented for patients at Great Ormond Street Hospital, where she underwent several operations while growing up. The talk was filmed and attracted much media attention.