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Graphene research student Claire Woollacott won gold with her physics display in Parliament.

Exeter student strikes gold with physics display in Parliament

Claire Woollacott, 24, a PhD Postgraduate Research Student from the School of Physics at the University of Exeter, struck gold at a competition in the House of Commons for excellence in her physics research, walking away with a £3,000 prize. Claire presented her research, which could open new horizons in ultrafast electronic devices, to dozens of politicians and a panel of expert judges, as part of the poster competition SET for Britain, on Monday 18 March 2013. 

This pioneering project was carried out under the supervision of Dr. Eros Mariani and is embedded in the research activities of the Centre for Graphene Science in the Department of Physics. Claire's project was based on research that has just been published in the journal Physical Review Letters.


Her research, inspired by the unique properties of graphene, shows that light is transported by collective electronic oscillations whose behaviour can be tuned by the polarization of light, was judged against the work of 29 other shortlisted researchers and came out on top. 

Claire said, “I can't believe it! I really didn't think it was going to happen, but I am so happy that it did. Everyone at the House of Commons was so friendly, the staff were unbelievably helpful and all the other competitors were so congratulatory.

“It was such a fantastic opportunity to meet fellow scientists and to see how interested the politicians were in what was going on. I'm just so happy that I was chosen to be a part of it, and it’s the icing on the cake to have won.”

SET for Britain aims to help politicians understand more about the UK’s thriving science and engineering base and rewards some of the strongest scientific and engineering research being undertaken in the UK.

Tom Crotty, Director of INEOS Group AG, sponsors of the Gold Medal in the Physics Section, said, "It is crucial that there continues to be investment in skills to provide the next generation of engineers and scientists, particularly as the age profile of highly skilled engineers continues to increase. 

“For manufacturing to thrive, the UK needs a large and growing reserve of people with the knowledge and skills to deliver world-class manufacturing and research & development.

“We’re delighted to support SET for Britain as an opportunity to celebrate the success of our early career scientists and we hope it will convince politicians to invest even greater effort to ensure the next generation of engineers and scientists come to the fore.”

Professor Sir Peter Knight, President of the Institute of Physics, said, “It’s an incredible pleasure to see thirty of our leading early career physicists here in Parliament and I know the judges have had a very difficult time judging the medal winners of this Section.

“All of the researchers stand testament to the health and importance of the physics base in the UK and I hope that the event today has encouraged them to continue pursuing their ambitions in science.”

The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee run the event in collaboration with the Institute of Physics, The Physiological Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Society of Biology and the Society of Chemical Industry, with financial support from BP, Airbus/EADS, INEOS, AgChemAccess, Essar, the Institute of Biomedical Science, GAMBICA and WMG.

Andrew Miller MP, Chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, said, “This annual competition is an important date in the parliamentary calendar because it gives MPs an opportunity to speak to a wide range of the country’s best young researchers. 

“These early career scientists are the architects of our future and SET for Britain is politicians’ best opportunity to meet them and understand their work.”

Date: 20 March 2013

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