All posts by Olivia Keenan

09May/22

There are reasons girls don’t study physics – and they don’t include not liking maths

SEPnet Director of Outreach and Public Engagement, Dr Olivia Keenan, and Senior Outreach Fellow at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth, Dr Jen Gupta have authored an article for The Conversation outlining SEPnet’s response to the comments made recently to the Commons Science and Technology Committee on girls and Physics. 

Olivia and Jen lay out the evidence around girls aptitude in physics and maths and discuss the research into the real reasons fewer girls than boys pursue physics to A-level and beyond. 

Please share this article with your networks to raise the importance of this issue. The full article can be read through The Conversation

14Jan/22

Portsmouth ICG Public Engagement Team win Prestigious Royal Astronomical Society Annie Maunder Medal

Dr Nicolas Bonne, Dr Jen Gupta and Dr Coleman Krawczyk have been awarded the RAS’s Annie Maunder Medal for their work on the Tactile Universe Project. The Annie Maunder Medal is awarded annually for outstanding outreach work.

The Tactile Universe project delivers workshops that make astronomy accessible to vision-impaired children. Their work enables children between the ages of 7 and 14, to experience the benefits of a multi-sensory learning experience, inspiring them to the wonders of the universe with 3d models of galaxies, the Solar System and using sound. A newly funded STFC project will enable the project to expand its interests to the communicate research into gravitational waves. In addition to delivering workshops, the team have created resource kits and train other practitioners and museums to share knowledge so that the project goals are disseminated widely across the UK. The project has received international recognition through invited conference talks, and media coverage, including an appearance on BBC’s The Sky at Night, and has collaborated with an international installation at the British Science Festival. The Tactile Universe also has international reach through the project’s website, where educators across the world can access developed lesson plans, presentations, and instructions for how to create 3d printed models to deliver astronomy classes to children regardless of their level of vision. The Tactile Universe project and its team are commended for their continuing efforts to create a more inclusive environment that brings astronomy to all.

SEPnet send the Tactile Universe team our heartiest congratulations on this fantastic achievement. We have thoroughly enjoyed working with Nic, Jen and Coleman and look forward to continuing to do so through the exciting next phase of the project.

29Mar/21

SEPnet Public Engagement Awards 2021

SEPnet’s 2021 Public Engagement Awards ceremony took place online on March 25th, having been delayed from September 2020 due to the pandemic. The awards recognised Physicists across our partner universities for their outstanding public engagement work. The awards served as an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of physicists engaging with the public, a chance to reflect on the last year and the challenges and opportunities it has posed, and space to look forward to consider how we might engage post-pandemic. The awards were presented in 9 categories and different awards were open to individuals, projects, research groups and departments. A huge congratulations to all winners and those highly commended in categories.

Newcomer
Winner – Will Roper, University of Sussex

Communication
Winner – Meirin Evans, University of Sussex
Highly Commended:
Muhammad Hamza Waseem, University of Oxford

Achievement
Winner – Dr Victoria Mason, University of Kent

Public Engagement Champion Award
Winner – Dr Seth Zenz, Queen Mary University of London
Highly Commended:
Dr Stephen Wilkins, University of Sussex

Innovation Project Award
Winner – SETI and Democracy, University of Oxford
Highly Commended:
Space Soundscape, Queen Mary University of London

Impact Project Award
Winners – The Tactile Universe, University of Portsmouth
Space Sound Effects, Queen Mary University of London

COVID-19 Response Award
Winner – Physics Outreach Team, University of Oxford
Highly Commended:
ATLAS Research Group, University of Sussex

Strategic Approach to Public Engagement
Winner – School of Physical Sciences, University of Kent
Highly Commended:
Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, University of Portsmouth

 

 

 

 

30Sep/20

STEM Careers Postcards

We have developed a set of careers postcards showcasing a range of careers which use physics qualifications or skills. These highlight employers in the SEPnet region which offer relevant roles and give information on the levels of qualifications needed.

The new Gatsby Careers Benchmarks, especially benchmark 4, highlight the expectation on teachers to embed careers into their classroom teaching. These cards are an easy way to introduce STEM careers into classrooms, and all are mapped to the KS3 curriculum.

We owe a huge thanks to NUSTEM as these were developed based on NUSTEM resources, and they have been fantastically generous and supportive throughout the process.  We have utilised the 15 STEM attributes laid out by NUSTEM, based on previous work of the WISE Campaign and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

We are also very grateful for the support of all the organisations who have contributed including: AWE, Brady Mallalieu Architects, CGG, Fat Fish Games, Forest Learning Alliance, Framestore, Jacobs, The Met Office, Millais Alliance, NPL, RSSL, Surrey Satellite Technology, Thames Water and University of Surrey.

The cards are available to download and print for free here. If you would like any more information about the cards, or advice on how to use them, please email outreach@sepnet.ac.uk.

27Aug/20

Interact 2019 Evaluation Report Launched

The Interact 2019 Sympossium took place in Preston last year, in a world which now feels barely recognisable! It formed part of a biennial series of symposia which aim to foster a community of active public engagement practitioners across academia and industry in the physical sciences. The day itself was a valuable experience to share expertise, network and foster ideas to enrich public engagement practice.

The symposium was co-organised by SEPnet, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the Institute of Physics, the Ogden Trust, the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the University of Central Lancashire (who acted as the 2019 hosts). The organisers are carrying out a longitudinal evaluation of the symposium series to access it’s impact on the sector, and to better ascertain what is needed from our organisations to support academics and industry professionals in their roles as public engagement practitioners. The report from Interact 2019 has now been published and is available to download from the STFC website. Hard copies are also available on request – please email outreach@sepnet.ac.uk if you would like to some.

We will shortly be sending out a follow up survey to attendees of Interact 2019, to follow up on the impact the symposium has had on their work. We recognise that this has been a rather unusual year and would like to also find out the affect this has had on the sector, and the support that our organisations can provide in the current climate. Pandemic permitting Interact 2021 is scheduled to take place in Cardiff next September.

20Jun/19

SEPnet Public Engagement Leader involved in Europe-wide photonics project getting thousands of girls in STEM

Thousands of young women and girls have had the chance to explore the world of science, engineering, and light technologies thanks to a European photonics research consortium that has created their girls in STEM ecosystem, a series of 33 workshops and 11 Photonics Challenger projects across 10 European countries in a bid to tackle the underrepresentation of women in science.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women.

However, a new outreach project has been tackling this underrepresentation by engaging young female minds with STEM, in the hope that they will pursue a career within the photonics, science or engineering industries.

Staged in ten countries across Europe, a total of 1221 girls have attended the ‘Phablabs 4.0’ initiatives since last year. The workshops have created novel and innovative problems for students to solve using lasers and photonics, the technology around the emission, manipulation and detection of light.

Combining a ‘Fab Lab’ – or a fabrication laboratory – with the world of photonics, the workshops and Challenger Projects offer a glimpse into careers in photonics, engineering, computer coding, and robotics.

Pearl John, SEPnet Public Engagement Leader at the University of Southampton, has led the UK element of the project. Partnering with the Green Lab agri-tech laboratory in Bermondsey Pearl and her team have delivered a series of hands on photonics workshops, reaching audiences who would not otherwise have the opportunity to access hands on physics experiences.

Pearl John and the team from Southampton University.

Hands-on Opportunities

Students have been exploring tasks as varied as creating an artwork made from lasers, modifying a cuddly toy with photonics, or building an infrared glove that acts as a remote control where touching two fingers creates a signal.

The more advanced Challenger Projects have tasked students with building an Invisibility Cloak or creating their own hologram. Some students, like Ester Muylaert, 18, from Halle, Belgium, are really excited to discover material they would not learn anywhere else.

“Phablabs is amazing and interesting. We’ve learned lots of new skills that we wouldn’t have picked up in school. To see the job in front of me and to meet the person who does that job has given me loads of ideas about what I can do in the future. It’s really made me want to work with photonics.”

The researchers have targeted three age categories with workshops aimed at high school girls (Young Minds), female university students (Students) and women who may have already started their careers (Young Professionals 18+).

Gender Balanced Resources

One of the results of the PhabLabs 4.0 project has been the publication of a new booklet, A Gender Balanced Approach. The booklet acts as a guide to future Fabrication Laboratories so that organisers in schools or universities can use it as a reference to gain the interest of girls and young women in science and technology.

By creating gender-sensitive material for the workshops and “Photonics Challenger Projects” the organisers have garnered the interest of girls and young women in science, to generate a lasting impact on their personal relation to STEM and Fab Labs.

Supported by the Gender Action Team, the developers have had the backing of the European Commission with funding from Horizon 2020, and support from a number of professionals such as Professor Averil MacDonald from WISE (Women in Science and Engineering).

“We are delighted to be able to open a door into a world of science that some girls and young women may feel is closed,” Professor MacDonald said. “Girls and young women are more likely to consider studying STEM subjects beyond age 16 if they see that the subject keeps their options open.”

“The STEM sectors can only benefit from the talents of these young women. More girls and young women deserve the chance to have successful and satisfying careers in science, technology, engineering, manufacturing, mathematics and construction,” said Professor MacDonald.

The resources are available as an open resource toolkit for educators to use with their students.

For more details contact phablabs4.0@gmail.com.

13Mar/19

Enfield Council International Women’s Day Conference

Friday 8th March was International Women’s Day, a day where we celebrate the achievements of women and highlight the barriers which still exist to achieving gender equality. Our Director of Outreach and Public Engagement, Dr Olivia Keenan, was invited to speak at the International Women’s Day Conference organised by Enfield council on the subject of Women in Physics. Olivia used the opportunity to highlight the problems we have in physics around gender equality and to highlight some programmes and schemes working to counter this.

Only around 20% of A-level physics students are currently female, in spite of the fact that all genders perform equally well at GCSE level (IOP ‘Why not Physics?’ report, 2018). Similarly, around 20% of Physics undergraduates and postdoctoral students are female. However, in academia it gets worse as women progress to more senior positions, with only 11% of Physics professors in the UK being women (IOP ‘Academic Staff in UK Physics Departments’, 2017). These figures get even worse when we look at the ethnicity of physics academic staff. Overall, for all genders, 94.2% of UK national academic staff in physics are white, 2.4% are Asian, 1.5% are Chinese and 0.1% are black (IOP ‘Academic Staff in UK Higher Education Institutions, 2012). All women face significant barriers in physics academia, with non-white women being currently barely represented at all.

The picture is similar when we look at industry. WISE’s 2018 Workforce Statistics show that currently only 22% of the core STEM workforce are women. For engineering, a career route particularly relevant for those with physics degrees, this proportion falls to 12%.

The good news is that multiple organisations are working on programmes to help turn the tide, and increase the gender diversity in physics. In 2013 the IOP published the report Closing Doors which explores gender and subject choices at school across six subjects. It found that nearly half of schools were making the gender imbalance worse, however in schools that were sending more girls to do A-level physics the gender imbalance was also smaller in other subjects. This was followed by the Opening Doors report in 2015. It highlighted the issues schools deal with when it comes to gender balance and makes recommendations on how schools can address gender balance. These recommendations include appointing gender champions on senior leadership teams, ensuring that sexist language is unacceptable and presenting all subjects equally to students in terms of relative difficulty.

University College London is leading the ASPIRES/ ASPIRES 2 project, which is a longitudinal study of young people’s science and career aspirations from ages 10-19. They have coined the term science capital, which is a measure of how likely someone is to see science as for them. Science capital can be influenced by multiple factors including whether there is a scientist in the family, if science is discussed in the home and whether someone has visited science spaces outside of formal education. They also find that girls pursuing the physical sciences post-16 are ‘exceptional’ in many ways, including having high science capital and tailoring their performances of femininity when in a science environment.

SEPnet piloted the Shattering Stereotypes project in the academic year 2016/17 with the aim of determining the best role physics Outreach Officers can play in tackling and improving the gender stereotyping problem in schools. Workshops were held with year 8 students around understanding and countering the stereotypical perceptions of gender, with year 12s involved in leadership roles. This was evaluated and is now running in schools during the 2018/19 academic year. Shattering stereotypes incorporates the People Like Me quiz developed by WISE which highlights scientific careers routes to girls based on the traits and skills which they identify with.

The strong message from all of the research and projects happening around gender and physics show that there are many issues compounding to mean fewer girls go on to take physics. Science capital is a key theme, with the need to work towards increasing science capital being paramount. Another common negative factor is the use of gender stereotyping and gendered language in our society. We need to work on ways to counter these problems to help lower the barriers to more girls and women identifying with, and participating in, the physical sciences.