Write-up by Almudena Visser Velez

Since the recent relaunch of Exeter Women in Physics Network last year following pandemic disruption, we have been hard at work promoting events for women in the department and doing outreach to inspire the next generation of physicists. Over the summer we had tremendous success with our new Science Essay Competition for girls in sixth form to explore various areas of physics beyond the curriculum. We received 14 entries from across the country on topics as varied as biophysics, astronomy, renewable energy and important historical women in scientific history. The essays were read by the judging panel comprised of Prof Francesca Palombo (Biophysics), Prof Jude Meakin (Biophysics) and student organiser Almudena Visser Velez (Astrophysics). The top three entrants received certificates and book vouchers paid for from funds allocated by the Director of EDI for Physics & Astronomy and Natural Sciences.

The first place essay was by Frances from Ipswich, who impressed the judges with her essay answering the question ‘What are the characteristics of a good scientist? Discuss with examples of historical and recent women in science’, where she wrote about the importance of scientific curiosity, courage, collaboration and logic, as well as the challenges faced by women who wanted to pursue science in the 19th and 20th centuries. In close second and third place were Vered from Cardiff and Hibatullah from Cambridge who both wrote wonderful essays on the exciting findings of the James Webb Space Telescope and the future of astrophysics, touching on discoveries about galaxies, star formation and exoplanets.

It was brilliant to get such an enthusiastic response from so many young women keen to pursue physics further and stretch their potential. The physics community needs as many strong minds as possible to tackle modern challenges and research questions, and increasing the number of women in physics will help push the frontiers of science further.

We will be running this competition for sixth-form students again next year as it is an ideal opportunity to explore a new area of physics outside the classroom and stand out on a budding physicist’s personal statement. Below is a map of places across the UK from which the competition received entries. We were delighted that the word spread so far and aim to replicate this success again next year.

Map showing the location of essay competition entrants