Dr Katherine Shirley

Dr Katherine Shirley wins Impact Award

Exoplanets and planetary physics
Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics

Dr Katherine Shirley has won the MPLS Public Engagement with Research Impact Award for her planetary research work. The annual awards recognise significant impact made by an individual or group; the Public Engagement with Research Impact Award is for high quality public engagement with research that informs and inspires or consults and collaborates with defined public audiences.

Exciting and interactive activities

Dr Shirley has developed a toolkit of exciting and interactive activities which has successfully been used to engage audiences with planetary research. She has reached thousands of young people, families and adults through her work and has engaged with traditionally under-represented groups within physics, such as girls and children from disadvantaged backgrounds, to generate excitement and learning in space science. She has also explored a wide-range of different platforms, including online talks and quizzes, night-sky observing, research showcase events and demonstration lectures. Dr Shirley’s toolkit of activities includes a demonstration lecture with adaptable segments, a hands-on workshop and several table-top demonstrations. As public engagement with research (PER) representative for Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics (AOPP), Dr Shirley champions PER activity and mentors others within the Department of Physics.

Space missions

Dr Shirley’s research specifically seeks to better understand the surfaces of (typically airless) bodies in our solar system such as Kuiper belt objects, moons and asteroids. This is achieved by developing instrumentation and analysing data, both from the surfaces of the bodies and remotely via satellites, and through the production of supporting laboratory data. Katherine’s hardware development has focussed on optimising infrared radiometry and spectrometry for remote compositional interpretation. Currently she is working on the development of the Modular Infrared Molecules and Ices Sensor (MIRMIS) on ESA's Comet Interceptor, the Lunar Thermal Mapper (LTM) on NASA's Lunar Trailblazer, and sample handling for the asteroid sample being returned by NASA's OSIRIS-REx  mission.

Professor Ian Shipsey, Head of the Department of Physics comments: ‘Katherine’s PER work is exemplary. She is an excellent physicist working on high profile projects which are demanding and intense so to be able to dedicate time and creative energy to developing innovative, high quality public engagement activity is extraordinary. Through the toolkit she has created, and her leadership in championing public engagement within the Department of Physics, Katherine’s impact goes beyond her own work. She is an inspiration to others and this award is thoroughly deserved.’