Irish nanoscientist lands top Institute of Physics award

10 Jul 2017

Dr Jessamyn Fairfield, NUI Galway, pictured on an island in the Arctic Circle during an expedition as part of a two-week residency programme. Image: Jessamyn Fairfield

Fresh from a stay aboard an Arctic boat, Irish nanoscience physicist Dr Jessamyn Fairfield has been awarded a major science engagement award.

A major obstacle in science is not actually the science part. It’s the ‘getting the science explained’ part.

Two years ago, science communicators Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin and Dr Shane Bergin discussed this topic with The basis of the piece was: ‘Science poorly told is science poorly done’.

Future Human

This idea is shared by the Institute of Physics’ science engagement award, commending those who better explain the world of research.

And the organisers are pretty on the ball this year, with Dr Jessamyn Fairfield from the School of Physics at NUI Galway honoured with the Mary Somerville Medal.

Fairfield, no stranger to, was lauded for her “stellar work as a public speaker and writer on physics for a popular audience, and for having organised and hosted many innovative events bringing physics to the Irish public”.

Since February 2015, Fairfield has been the director of Bright Club in Ireland, encouraging academics to discuss their work through stand-up comedy.

Her Dublin programme, set up when she was at Trinity College, has continued to grow and, to date, she has run 23 Bright Club events, teaching academics how to use comedy to discuss their work.

The project is supported by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), which backs it with funding – further evidence of the importance of communicating.

Fairfield often features on Futureproof, a Newstalk radio segment, and will soon create written and radio pieces about her recent Arctic expedition.

That expedition finished just last month, with Fairfield spending two weeks aboard the ship Antigua, where scientists and artists explored how the Arctic intersects with art, science, architecture, education and activism.

She has written and narrated a short film about nanoscience, called Small World, and has also spoken at multiple events and venues such as Pint of Science, Festival of Curiosity, Maker Faire Dublin, the Science Gallery and Inspirefest.

Commenting on her Arctic adventure, Fairfield said: “The raw and beautiful environment of the Arctic Circle is the perfect place to bring together scientists, artists, and innovators.

“I was delighted to be selected for the Summer Solstice 2017 expedition, where I worked on a Cherenkov detector made from Arctic ice to detect cosmic rays.

“I also ran a Bright Club training on how everyone, including artists and creators, can use humour to talk about the work they are passionate about.

“I am excited about the projects which are coming together as a result of this residency, and absolutely loved sharing the ship Antigua with so many amazing individuals during the midnight sun.”

Fairfield is also co-organising a Soapbox Science event in Galway this month, bringing together female scientists into public spaces to talk about their work at the Spanish Arch on 15 July.

She will be working with The Mawazo Institute to develop public engagement events for science and policy in Nairobi this autumn, and she is also the author behind a long-standing blog, Let’s Talk About Science.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic