Oxford Physics celebrated at the SEPnet Public Engagement Awards

31 March 2021

Dr Peter Hatfield, Muhammad Hamza Waseem and the Department of Physics outreach team have all been recognised at the recent SEPnet Public Engagement Awards for their outstanding work in engaging the public with physics. The awards recognise excellence in public engagement and the judges of the awards commented that the quality of nominations was exceedingly high this year and they had some extremely tough calls to make.

We are passionate about sharing our research at Oxford Physics and I am extremely proud of our staff and students for their dedication to running innovative engagement projects for schools, local community and wider public. It was fantastic to see some of this work recognised in the SEPnet Public Engagement Awards. It was very well deserved.

Professor Ian Shipsey, Head of Physics at Oxford

SEPnet, the South East Physics Network, is a network of universities in the south east of England who work together to deliver excellence in physics. The Department of Physics at Oxford is a SEPnet partner for outreach and public engagement.

COVID-19 Response Award – winner

Oli Moore, Dr Kathryn Boast, Helena Cotterill, Lena Shams and Dr Sian Tedaldi
The Department of Physics outreach team at the University of Oxford won the COVID-19 Response Award and the judges were particularly impressed with their audience-centered approach to engagement during the pandemic. Within a few weeks of the first lockdown the team were adapting events for online delivery and using technologies to maximise audience engagement. The team provided activities for home learning and helped shape and support Barton Community Association in creating the Sunny Smiles Summer School, which ran in August 2020 for local primary school children. Many of these students did not have access to computers at home and had not been able to engage in remote learning. The team also adapted DNA Dance, a project which allowed participants with additional support needs to explore DNA self-assembly research through dance. The project was delivered online and provided a focus to bring the group together at a time when they would have been isolated.

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Innovation Project Award – winner

Dr Peter Hatfield
Peter’s project, SETI and Democracy, won the Innovation Project Award. SETI and Democracy focused on the interplay between science and democracy and was a strongly multi-disciplinary project, building on a collaboration with Oxford's Faculty of Law. Participants (the project was taken to science festivals and schools) were encouraged to think about what the most democratic way to react to an alien signal would be, before being led to consider democratic processes at play for more imperative scientific issues (eg Climate Assembly UK). The judges felt this was a truly innovative project which fully involved audiences who would otherwise not engage with science. They felt the project tackled an extremely important and timely topic by engaging the public to consider the advantages and disadvantages of different methods of scientific decision making. SETI and Democracy was identified as one of four highlights of the 2019 British Science Festival (https://www.britishscienceassociation.org/blog/four-highlights-from-the-...).

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Communication Award – highly commended

Muhammad Hamza Waseem
Hamza was highly commended in the communication category. The judges highly commend nominees where they felt that outstanding work had been done which deserved recognition. They were impressed with Hamza’s international reach and his audience focused work. Hamza’s achievements include engaging diverse audiences with physics through talks, hands-on activities and science writing. A few years before coming to Oxford, Hamza also co-founded an online science magazine called Spectra Magazine (https://spectramagazine.org/). Completely run by students, the magazine trains and gives a platform to high schoolers and undergraduates to write about science for the public. Hamza is also a core organiser of the biggest annual public science festival of Pakistan: Lahore Science Mela (http://ksslsm.org/).

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The outreach team at the Department of Physics made a short video to showcase the work they did in response to COVID-19.