Top physics students honoured

16 December 2016

Dr Peter van der Burgt of the Institute of Physics in Ireland, presented a silver medal to the top Leaving Certificate physics student and the Earnshaw Award for the best physics final year undergraduate project in Ireland. The event in the RDS was attended by friends and members of IOP Ireland together with the students, families and teachers.

The winning students were:

Leaving Certificate

Domantas Jagutis, St Mary's CBS, Carlow
Teacher -  Fiona Lenon

Domantus is currently studying Economics and Finance in University College Dublin

A-Level (to be presented at a later date)

Thomas McIver,  St Malachy's College Belfast
Teachers -  Clare McGrath and Lois Steward

Thomas is currently studying Natural Sciences at Cambridge University

Earnshaw Medal

Adam Dempsey, Dublin City University for his project on Tip-surface interactions in atomic-force microscopy. Adam’s project was supervised by Dr Tony Cafolla and he is continuing his studies for a PhD at DCU.

Speaking at the event, Dr van der Burgt noted the welcome increase in students taking physics at Leaving Certificate with numbers up by 22% since 2012. IOP has put significant resources into providing support for the teaching of physics through its teacher networks and also in the provision of accurate and engaging careers materials. However, he also expressed concern that almost a quarter of second-level schools across Ireland are not offering physics at Leaving Certificate level and the continuing gender imbalance with girls making up just 25% of the Leaving Certificate cohort

 “Not only is physics a fascinating subject, qualifications in this area give students a real edge in competition for highly-sought after careers. To deny the students of 24.5% of Irish schools the chance to study this highly valued subject runs counter to all government efforts to increase the uptake of physical sciences at third level which are seen as critical to the country’s economy.”

He noted that the recent report from the Science Technology, Engineering and Math Education advisory group put forward proposals to enhance the teaching and learning of physics at school, particularly in relation to the upskilling of non-specialist teachers of physics. Many of the issues noted have long been highlighted by the Institute of Physics. IOP has developed significant resources for the needs of ‘out-of-field’ teachers – eg the Stimulating Physics Network which is now well established in England and the Improving Gender Balance project. (http://www.iop.org/education/teacher/support/girls_physics/improving-gender-balance/page_63795.html).  Such interventions have lead to results such as:

  • The increase in students progressing to AS-level physics has happened at over double the national rate.
  • In 2012, 82% of students achieved grades A*-C in physics GCSE compared with 69% nationwide
  • The participation of girls in post-16 physics has doubled compared to the national average.

Dr van der Burgt commented that IOP would very much like to develop similar supports in Ireland in partnership with the government. He called for the swift implementation of the recent proposals from the STEM Education advisory group to enhance the teaching and learning of physics at school.

More pictures are available here.