Former journalist takes early career woman award

11 May 2011

A former journalist for the Times Educational Supplement, Cherry Canovan, has been awarded the Very Early Career Woman Physicist of the Year award at the Institute of Physics (IOP).

Arlene, Cherry and Frances

Cherry, now a member of the Mathematical Physics Group at Lancaster University and affiliated to the Cockcroft Institute of Accelerator Science, is in the third year of her part-time PhD creating new mathematical models for optically dispersive materials, such as metamaterials.

The award, sponsored by Shell, is a celebration of the achievements of female physicists at a very early stage in their physics careers, which involved presentations from the selection of shortlisted candidates before Cherry received her £1,000 prize.

Cherry switched from journalism to physics shortly after the birth of her first child.

Cherry said, “At 19 I went to university to study politics and economics and then became a journalist and ended up as science correspondent at the TES.  I wrote so many stories about shortages of female physicists that I decided to take personal action.”

On Cherry’s success, Ann Marks, founder of the Very Early Career Woman Award, said, “Cherry’s is an outstanding success story.  It’s wonderful to meet a young physicist with such a bright future ahead of her who has overcome the combined challenges of career change and new motherhood.  Amazingly, she has also found time to encourage others. I congratulate her on her ability and drive.”

After receiving the prize, Cherry said, “I’m delighted but shocked.  I hope that this will encourage women to feel that they can go into physics even if they have spent ten years doing something completely different. It will also make it clear that it’s possible to combine having a family with being a physicist.”

Shortlisted candidates, Arlene O’Neill, a nanoscientist in the third year of her PhD at Trinity College Dublin, and Frances Charlwood, a postdoctoral researcher in the Nuclear Astrophysics Group at the University of York, gave presentations of their work alongside Cherry.

Renée Hlozek, from the Department of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford, who studies the Cosmic Microwave Background using data from the Atacama Cosmology telescope, was also shortlisted but unable to attend on the day.

Ann Marks continued, “We had yet another year of very high-quality candidates, showing the range of fulfilling careers open to women in physics.”

Frances commented on being shortlisted, “It’s such an honour to come today. Anything to promote women in physics and encourage girls to study physics is so worthwhile.”