The 2010 Very Early Career Award, presented by the Women in Physics Group of the Institute of Physics (IOP), was for the first time awarded jointly to two young women physicists on 5 May, for their outstanding achievements in physics research and their inspiring enthusiasm for disseminating a love of physics through a variety of outreach activities.
Laura Harkness, of the University of Liverpool and originally from Belfast, and Laura Russell, of University College Cork, Ireland, were nominated joint winners in a year which saw a particularly high level of achievement among the shortlisted candidates.
Dr Carol Thompson, chair of the IOP’s Women in Physics Group, said: “This event is the highlight of the year for the Women in Physics Group. Many thanks must go to Shell for their continued sponsorship of the award, to all the young women who applied and to their supporters. The talent and enthusiasm of the “Lauras” and the runners-up cannot fail to be inspiring to women, and even men, of all ages. We will be seeing more of them!”
The award, which began in 2007 and is currently sponsored by Shell, aims at recognising the outstanding achievements of women physicists at the beginning of their careers and at inspiring others, and particularly young women, towards the many opportunities a physics career can offer them.
Laura Harkness’ work in optimising the next generation single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) technology for medical imaging, and Laura Russell’s research exploring the behaviour of “cold” atoms using pioneering new micro-optic technology, were rewarded with a cash prize of £750 each. The joint victory was announced by James Smith, Shell UK Country Chairman.
The “two Lauras”, as they were quickly nicknamed, were thrilled at being announced joint winners, and had words of support for all young female scientists wishing to embark on a physics-based career.
“There are lots of opportunities for women to do well in science and engineering, though they [young women] may be unaware,” said Laura Harkness. “There are so many applications – I only discovered during my degree that I wanted to do something very applied, and an application in medicine was the right thing for me.”
“[Physics-based research] is still such a male-dominated field… Women and men approach problems differently, so getting the right ratio [in scientific research] is really important,” said Laura Russell.
The two runners-up, Yara Jaffe of the University of Nottingham and Joanna Skilton of the University of Leeds, also presented their exciting research projects on studying the evolutionary patterns of galaxies, and exploring the production and propagation of high-energy particles in the universe, respectively.
Dr Helen Mason of the University of Cambridge, who spoke at the event about her own career as a solar physicist and the particular challenges and satisfactions she experienced as a female scientist, expressed her admiration for all the candidates: “they are an inspiration to me, more than I can be to them.”