Diamond kicked 2015 off with a bang, staging a prize-giving ceremony for the first ever winner of the Student Science Communicators Award, launched in 2014. The competition was set up to encourage young people working at Diamond to present their experiences as scientists to the public in thoughtful and creative ways.
Every year, Diamond welcomes around 30 undergraduate students to the synchrotron as part of the Student Summer Placement scheme. These students spend the summer working on cutting-edge scientific, engineering and computing projects that capitalise on the advanced techniques and equipment on offer at the facility. This programme is a unique opportunity for young scientists to experience daily life working in STEM, taking part in real research, forging valuable links with scientists from Diamond and from the wider STEM community, and making a contribution to their field.
Entrants to the Science Communicators Award submitted blogs, jokes, poems, and images, all with the aim of engaging the public with the students’ projects at Diamond. Many entrants also took to social media to promote their work, explaining their research to non-scientists over Twitter and Facebook. At the end of the summer, all entries were assessed and winners chosen in several categories. Students won prizes for good writing, creative communication, and sustained contributions over the entire period. Each winner was awarded both a book, Science Communication: A Practical Guide for Scientists, and the opportunity to have their work featured in Diamond’s magazines and on the website.
The top prize went to John Sandford O’Neill, whose blog brought together excellent writing, beautiful photography, and superb social media skills. John used prose and images to convey a highly complex concept: topological insulator thin films. Thin films may well shape the future of technology. They’re made by firing beams of atoms at a substrate, building up a very thin layer – this thinness gives them unique properties, making their electrons behave in strange ways. If fully harnessed, thin films could be used to create much faster, more powerful computing.
Whilst highly significant, topological thin films are not easy to explain, but John succeeded in conveying the importance of his work in a way that was both accessible and intriguing. He comments: “It was great to be doing something that was so interesting I just had to share it. When you’re studying at university, you’re generally looking at things that have already been discovered and doing things that have been done before. But this was completely different. I hadn’t tried blogging before, but I was working on really novel research and it was so exciting, I had lots to say!”
John continues: “I’m very grateful to have been awarded the top prize, and I’m so thankful to everyone I worked with this summer, especially to the people on I07 and my supervisors; I couldn’t have done it without them. It was amazing working at Diamond, and this is just the icing on the cake!”
Steve Collins is Diamond’s Scientific Training & Education Coordinator; he leads the summer placements, ensuring that each year, Diamond is able to welcome a selection of high-calibre students. He comments: “Diamond’s summer programme has gone from strength to strength. Each year we look forward to working with some of the brightest students in the country. It brings a real buzz to the place. Diamond is a wonderful place to do science and the students remind us just how exciting and important our work is!”
Diamond’s summer student initiative looks to inspire the next generation of scientists with the exciting reality of a career in STEM. With the launch of the communication awards, students who spend a summer at Diamond will also emerge equipped to interact with the public and share the significance of their research with the world.
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
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