Very Early Career Woman Physicist of the Year Award

Four female early career physicists, family, colleagues, friends and members of the Institute of Physics (IOP)’s Women in Physics Group came recently to the Institute of Physics to hear who would be awarded 2009’s Very Early Career Woman Award.

The award, this year sponsored by Shell, is aimed at recognising early career women working in physics-related fields and highlighting how their skills, ambition and desire to inspire others in to physics-related pursuits are already bearing fruit.

The four shortlisted candidates presented slides about their work which were as varied as they were enthralling: one about her research towards building particle physics accelerators which intend to zap inoperable tumours; another on the study of the effect of light on butterflies’ wings; one more on understanding dark energy and star formation; and, finally, one from a rocket scientist currently involved in designing the attitude control for a spacecraft.

The winner however was Victoria Hodges from Astrium Ltd who explained during her presentation that she is currently working on GAIA, one of the European Space Agency’s cornerstone projects, due to be launched in 2012, which all involved hope, once construction is completed, will be able to map the billion or so stars in our galaxy and the local group.

For more information on the IOP’s Women in Physics Group, please click

Vicki explained her work at the event, “Once the satellite is in space its position and orientation has to be controlled, a bit like driving a car, but it’s not possible or desirable to do this in real-time. You have to make the spacecraft autonomous to overcome the gap between sending a signal and the satellite receiving it, while this is only around 5 seconds for Gaia, this is a long period of time for a spacecraft! A big part of my team’s challenge is being able to control the satellite accurately to within less than a degree (and in some phases of the mission less than a few arcseconds!) of the desired orientation – imagine trying to control the line along which you drive a car on the road to this level of accuracy!”

Also impressive to the judges, Vicki has recently spent a fair proportion of her time working on an outreach programme for school children visiting the Astrium site in Stevenage. The new programme for school kids has already been well-received by more than 500 local children, helping to inspire rocket scientists of the future.

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