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In March 2023, the 'I'm a Scientist... Get me out of Here' Physics Zone took place, providing an exciting opportunity for students across the UK to engage with physicists from various backgrounds and explore the wonders of physics based on their own interests. This event was facilitated through the online platform called 'I'm a Scientist...', which connects scientists with school students. Through online text chats, students had the chance to ask questions to scientists and learn about their work. At the end of the event, students voted for their favourite researcher.

The Physics Zone featured a diverse group of 30 physicists, including industry professionals and academic researchers, who delved into a wide range of topics such as geology, nuclear engineering, medical exploration of the human brain, and more. From the University of Oxford, eight researchers and staff members participated in the event:

  • Nora Martin – Dept. of Physics
  • Stuart Clare – Nuffield Dept. of Clinical Neuroscience
  • Joshua Bibby – Dept. of Physics
  • Nikita Klimovich – Dept. of Physics
  • Allyson Lister – Dept. of Engineering Science
  • Helena Cotterill – Dept. of Materials
  • Kathryn Boast – Formerly Dept. of Physics
  • Ollie Thomas – Dept. of Materials

A total of 802 students from 31 UK schools actively participated in the event. Notably, 75% of the active students came from priority schools, with 36% from underserved schools and 53% from widening participation schools. This highlights the inclusive nature of the event, as it provided an opportunity for students from different backgrounds to engage with scientists. Schools from various regions, including Cambridgeshire, London, and Yorkshire, were represented in the event. Teachers showed support by typing questions on behalf of their students and displaying the chat on a screen, ensuring active involvement from all students.

The live text chat conversations between students and scientists covered a wide range of topics, as evidenced by the word cloud generated from the discussions (below). In all over 80 live chats took place, 33 with Oxford scientists. Some noteworthy discussions revolved around climate change, the practical applications of particles in daily life, the development of robots, and the intriguing concept of dark matter. Scientists provided insightful and inspiring answers to students' questions, fostering a deeper understanding of complex scientific concepts.

 Word cloud, prominent words include space, planet, black, hole, universe, earth, physic, star, galaxy. Less prominent words include thanks, life, dark, matter, billion, research, interesting, particle, galaxy

The questions asked by students varied greatly, encompassing their curiosity about fascinating scientific phenomena ("Can a fire have a shadow?" and "Is the universe infinite? Or just very big?"), inquiries about the scientific process ("How did people start working with the brain if they didn't know anything about it?"), personal questions ("If you could go back to your childhood, what is one thing you would change?"), as well as queries about careers and education ("How much do you get paid as a scientist?" and "What do you think the hardest milestone of your work will be?").

Feedback received after the event indicated that students, teachers, and researchers had a positive experience. Students expressed their gratitude and enthusiasm for the opportunity to interact with the scientists.

“Thanks for all the great answers to my questions!” – Student

“This has been really great for my pupils, thank you so much” - Teacher

"I have to say it was a really chilled out and fun way to engage with students, very low effort on my part, and so easy to fit the 30 min chats around my work schedule." - Helena Cotterill, Dept. of Materials.

Yannick Verbelen, a researcher investigating nuclear engineering at the University of Bristol, emerged as the overall winner of the Physics Zone. Yannick had the most votes at the end of the event and engaged in numerous chats with students, leaving a lasting impression. Yannick was awarded £500 to spend on public engagement projects.

The active participation of students, the diverse group of physicists, and the insightful conversations showcased the power of engaging events to inspire young minds.

If you are interested in getting involved, 'I'm a Scientist...' hosts three events with various themed zones each year.

Click here to find more information about upcoming future events on their website

The Physics Zone March 2023 was supported by UKRI, STEM Ambassadors Programme, and MPLS Division, University of Oxford.