Durham quasar physicist Vicky takes Silver Medal in parliamentary scientific research competition. Victoria Fawcett, a postgraduate research student at Durham University has won Silver for the excellence of her physics research in a national competition, receiving a £750 prize and a medal.
Victoria Fawcett, a postgraduate research student at Durham University has won Silver for the excellence of her physics research in a national competition, receiving a £750 prize and a medal.
The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee runs the event in collaboration with the Institute of Physics and other learned societies - the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Society of Biology, Physiological Society, Council for the Mathematical Sciences, and the Nutrition Society.
For three years, as her PhD project, Vicky has been investigating quasars, their properties and how they may link in galaxy evolution. Quasars are astronomical objects, powered by gas, that spiral at very high velocities into extremely large black holes. They are found in the centres of some galaxies, and outshine the entire galaxy they sit in. Most appear very blue, but there are some that show much redder colours. By researching the properties of these red quasars, Vicky and her team have added weight to an emerging idea that red quasars are fundamentally different objects to blue quasars. The differences they have found could indicate that red quasars represent an important phase in galaxy evolution.
“In my research, I have found fundamental differences in the radio properties of red quasars that support this evolutionary model. Radio data - the same waves that you get from the radio you listen to - tells me about mechanisms close to the supermassive black hole in the centre of the galaxy.”
Analysing radio data from a sample of red and blue quasars, Vicky found higher levels in the red quasars compared to the blue quasars.
“I also found this enhanced radio emission to be on very small scales, rather than the huge galactic jets we sometimes see, which suggests this emission is driven by out-flowing material such as winds. This outflow could have a big impact on the host galaxy, and shape how it evolves.”
Vicky’s work implies that red quasars could be a crucial element in galaxy evolution models, which could ultimately help us understand how the billions of galaxies in our Universe, including the Milky Way, evolved from the Big Bang.
She presented her research to politicians and a panel of expert judges, as part of the annual poster competition, STEM for BRITAIN, on Thursday 4th March. After a weekend of deliberation, the winners were announced on Monday 8th March.
Usually held in the House of Commons but this year held online, it involves some 200 or so early career scientists, and is the only national competition of its kind.
Vicky was judged against other shortlisted physicists from across Britain, in a competition that also includes categories for researchers who are chemists, biologists, engineers and mathematicians.
There are only three winners in each category though, and Vicky’s Silver medal is a fantastic achievement.
“I am so happy and honoured to have won this award. It was really interesting trying to communicate my research to such a wide audience, and to summarise everything in three minutes was quite difficult.”
The Institute of Physics sponsors the physics awards. Jonathan Flint CBE, President of the Institute of Physics, said:
“STEM for BRITAIN provides a unique opportunity for some of our outstanding young and early career scientists to present aspects of their work to policymakers.
“This enables Members of Parliament to find out first-hand about some of the ground breaking research taking place here in the UK.
“Unable to be in the Houses of Parliament this year, they all had to rise to the challenge of presenting their work remotely via an online platform, making the communication of already complex scientific concepts much more of a challenge.
“I warmly congratulate the winning participants, but every single finalist should be very proud of what they have achieved. I do hope they all enjoyed the experience.
STEM for BRITAIN aims to help politicians understand more about the UK’s thriving science and engineering base and rewards some of the strongest scientific and engineering research being undertaken in the UK.
Story by the Department of Physics, Durham University