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Hull physics student awarded PhD grant from prestigious scholarship programme

Talented University of Hull physics student Kiri Newson has been selected for a prestigious new scholarship programme.

Kiri, in her final year studying BSc Physics at the University, is one of four talented students across the country to be chosen for the Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund.

Established by leading physicist Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell and the Institute of Physics to encourage greater diversity in science, the scholarship aims to help talented students from under-represented groups to pursue a PhD in the subject.

Kiri will now extend her studies through a PhD focused on medical physics, exploring adaptive radiotherapy techniques through machine learning.

Kiri said: “I am incredibly grateful to have an amazing opportunity I know so many people dream of.

“Without Dame Jocelyn’s generosity and vision of changing the stereotype of physicists, I would never have been able to do this." Kiri Newson, BSc Physics

“I’d like to especially thank Professor Brad Gibson, Dr David Benoit and Professor Andy Beavis for their support and enthusiasm throughout, helping make this possible.

“This is truly life-changing, and I cannot wait to get started.”

Dame Jocelyn was awarded the 2019 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for her role in the discovery of pulsars, and donated her £2.3m Breakthrough prize money to the Institute of Physics to set up the new Fund.

In 2017/18, just 23 per cent of physics undergraduate students were female. The new scholarship hopes to drive change in the industry, encouraging people from all backgrounds to pursue careers in physics.

Kiri is a passionate advocate for improving diversity in physics.

She has been a leading driver behind the ‘Changing Face of Physics’ campaign, led by the University of Hull’s E.A. Milne Centre for Astrophysics.

Prof. Brad Gibson, Director at the E.A. Milne Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Hull, said: “Kiri has developed into one of Yorkshire's most visible peer role models, through her leadership in various Women in STEM initiatives, including the region's Changing Face of Physics campaign.

“From humble academic beginnings, Kiri progressed from Foundation Year to becoming one of the University's academic high-flyers, alongside her ambitious outreach and engagement activities.

“Kiri’s background, growth, and progression through Physics at Hull is one of the most inspirational I have encountered throughout my career.

“This has been thankfully acknowledged by the IOP through the award of one of the inaugural Jocelyn Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarships, already acknowledged as one of the country’s most prestigious Fellowships within the Physical Sciences.”

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The Institute of Physics (IOP) is the professional body and learned society for physics in the UK and Ireland.

It works with a range of partners to support and develop the teaching of physics in school, encourages innovation, growth and productivity in business, and provides advice and support to governments across the UK and in Ireland.

Rachel Youngman, Deputy Chief Executive at the Institute of Physics, said: “These four talented and deserving students are embarking on exciting opportunities in physics research that might otherwise have been denied them.

“To study for a PhD requires considerable commitment, and physics is certainly no exception, but some students also face additional challenges and barriers, for example, financial pressures or caring responsibilities, that require them to demonstrate even more resilience if they are to succeed.

“We know that research is stronger and more effective as the physics community becomes more diverse. We are all so grateful to Dame Jocelyn for her generosity in establishing the Fund and by doing so sending out such a strong message that everyone can do physics.”

Prof. Gibson, at the University of Hull, said Kiri had grown into “a passionate advocate” for women in STEM subjects.

He said: “Having once been told physics was not for her, Kiri persevered and came through our Foundation Year, to now be the recipient of several of our top academic prizes.

“I simply could not be more pleased to see Kiri recognised with this well-deserved accolade."

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