Dr Tessa Baker wins gold at SET for Britain

19 March 2014

Oxford Physics Postdoc research fellow Tessa Baker has won a gold medal and £3,000 in the SET for Britain poster competition finals held at the House of Commons on 17 March.

She was among 210 early career researchers who were shortlisted to display their work to politicians and a panel of expert judges. Her research, which looks at how the laws of gravity relate to the largest scales across the universe, was judged the best among entries from the 29 finalists in the physics category.

Tessa said:"In my presentation, I first described why observations tell us that new physics is needed to explain the largest scales in the universe. I described how a new theory of gravity would fit the bill, and how my work connects the mathematical description of gravity to real-world data collected from telescopes, eg. galaxy surveys. Finally I managed to squeeze it some comments about that day's (Monday) announcement of the discovery of gravitational waves. It was a tall order to fit that all into three minutes!"

Her success came on the day that the direct detection of gravitational waves, which lends support to the inflation model in cosmology, was announced by the team analysing data from the BICEP2 telescope, to worldwide acclaim. Tessa, a researcher at All Souls College, Oxford, had a sign pinned above her poster offering to explain the discovery to anyone wanting to understand it.

She said of her achievement: "I am completely flabbergasted. With news out today of BICEP2's discovery, it's just been the most incredible day for me and my research."

The chair of the physics judges, Prof. Jim Hough, said: "Tessa was a really worthy winner. The judges were hugely impressed with her work, parameterising multiple theories and using this technique to show how to determine the correct theory from observation. She communicated her work with outstanding clarity and enthusiasm".

The winner of the silver medal and £2,000 was Jan Mertens, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge. His research involves squeezing light into tiny gaps to produce powerful sensors. The bronze medal and £1,000 went to Kerry O'Shea, a postdoc at the University of Glasgow whose work looks at the smart materials that are likely to be in the next generation of smart phones.

The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee runs the event in collaboration with seven scientific societies including the IOP and with private sector and institutional sponsorship. Richard Longden, group communications manager at INEOS Group AG, which sponsors the gold medal, said: "Raising the profile of Britain’s early-stage researchers at Parliament and elsewhere is vital to the continued progress and development of UK R&D. It is very encouraging to see academia, industry and government working together to harness the talent and energy we can see here today."

IOP president Frances Saunders said: "SET for Britain is a great opportunity for some of the country's most impressive scientific talent to show off their research to politicians from across the UK. I hope every exhibitor feels incredibly proud to have had their research shortlisted, and excited to show it off."

Pictured with Tessa Baker are (left to right): IOP chief executive Prof. Paul Hardaker, Richard Longden, Parliamentary and Scientific Committee member Stephen Benn and the committee’s chairman, Andrew Miller MP.

From www.iop.org/news