Dr Thomas Hird and Dr Katherine Shirley

Dr Thomas Hird and Dr Katherine Shirley

Dr Hird and Dr Shirley recognised by SEPnet

Quantum information and computation
Quantum optics & ultra-cold matter
Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics
Atomic and Laser Physics

Dr Thomas Hird and Dr Katherine Shirley were both highly commended in the South East Physics Network (SEPnet) Public Engagement Awards 2023 that took place on 11 September 2023. Postdoctoral Research Assistants Dr Hird and Dr Shirley were recognised in the Achievement Award and Champion Award categories respectively.

Achievement Award

The Achievement Award recognises an individual’s record of sustained excellence in engaging different audiences with research through a range of activities, supporting others and developing best practice. As a passionate communicator, over the last ten years Dr Hird has developed and delivered innovative physics activities and initiatives, taken on outreach leadership roles and helped to shape the Department of Physics’ strategic plans for outreach and public engagement.

Dr Hird has engaged with a variety of audiences with his research in quantum technologies from producing resources for teachers to visiting more than 30 primary schools in the south of England and leading a laser workshop for local school children in Oxfordshire. He has also played a key role in developing the Quantum City festival stall which toured many events including the Cheltenham Science Festival in 2018, the Oxfordshire Science Festival and the annual Physics: Lab to Life event.

Public Engagement Champion Award

The Public Engagement Champion Award recognises an individual whose support and actions have enabled public engagement in their department, research group and/or research field. As engagement representative for her sub-department, Dr Shirley builds capacity for her research colleagues to get involved and is an effective PER champion.

Dr Shirley is currently curating a toolkit of activities which comprises an adaptable demonstration lecture, hands-on workshop for KS3, and several table-top demonstrations for festival-style stalls informed by her research using infrared spectroscopy to learn more about the composition of planetary surfaces. She has also collated a series of activities for stalls at festival-style events, coordinated dedicated events and mentored several students while her resources are used by others at different events.

Culture of public engagement

‘Enormous congratulations to both Tom and Katherine,’ comments Dr Sian Tedaldi, Outreach Programmes Manager at the Department of Physics. ‘They are both excellent ambassadors for how to do public engagement well – not as a one-off but as an integral and vital aspect of research. Not only are they able to bring their own research to life for different audiences but they tirelessly help and support their colleagues across the department. They exemplify the culture of public engagement with research that we foster in the department.’

The SEPnet Public Engagement Awards recognise excellence in public engagement with research across current and former SEPnet members with nine different categories of award: Newcomer Award (individual); Communication Award (individual); Innovation Project Award (project); Achievement Award (individual); Impact Project Award (project); Research Group Award (research group); Public Engagement Champion Award (individual); Strategic Approach to Public Engagement Award (department); and Partnership Award (partnerships).

The South East Physics Network (SEPnet) is a network of six universities in the south east of England working together to deliver excellence in physics. SEPnet currently comprises the University of Hertfordshire, the University of Portsmouth, Queen Mary University of London, Royal Holloway University of London, the University of Southampton and the University of Sussex. The University of Oxford has previously been an associate member of the network.

Big Data: ATLAS won the Public Engagement Award at the event while Oxford alumnus Dr Laurence Wroe won the Newcomer Award.