STEM for Britain – the poster competition where early career researchers showcase their work to Members of Parliament – took place in Westminster on 9 March.
Exhibitors, judges, MPs, and representatives from learned societies and scientific organisations gathered in the Attlee Suite in Portcullis House in Parliament. Each exhibitor received a visit to their poster from at least two of the judges – all leading academics and industry experts.
STEM for Britain differs from the usual type of poster competition, in that it places an emphasis on being able to communicate science to a non-scientific audience. It’s an opportunity for policy makers, most of whom do not themselves have a science background, to learn more about the work being carried out by researchers in their constituency.
The competition is held annually, and exhibitors present their posters under the categories of physics, chemistry, mathematics, engineering and biosciences. Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded in each category, out of a shortlist of 30 exhibitors.
Presenting the prizes, the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Director of Science and Communities, Dr Jo Reynolds, said:
"It’s essential to have quality science informing policymaking – and that’s why we’re very pleased to once again support STEM for Britain. There’s no other event quite like it to bring amazing chemical science research – and the people who work on it – into parliament. Everyone presenting here is not only doing important scientific research but the equally important role of communicating it widely – an essential skill for future chemical science leaders."
Gold medal winner
Florence Gregson, a PhD student at the University of Bristol, won Gold. Florence grew up in Derbyshire.
Florence studies how liquid aerosol droplets crystallise and dry from sold particles. She explains: "It’s very important for industrial applications like spray drying, also important for inhaler therapy and atmospheric chemistry. Drying is everywhere!"
In response to winning Gold, she added: "I’m absolutely thrilled. The judges were all very kind about my work, so that was nice, and all my peers – the other competitors – here have been really supportive. I am hoping to print my PhD this week and hand it in – so I’m right at the end. This gives me a bit of a boost for the final hurdle."
Fabienne Bachtiger, a postgraduate at the University of Warwick, took home the silver medal. She grew up in Switzerland but moved to the UK when she was 12. She went to Durrington High School in Worthing.
Fabienne uses computational methods to find out how to stop large ice crystals from forming in biological materials – for example blood samples or the storage of other fluids.
She said: "Being able to communicate what you do to lay people is really important for policymaking – it informs policy, it informs other people that might actually want to be involved but don’t necessarily have that level of expertise – but you can make that accessible by explaining what you do at a more friendly, user-level."
In response to winning silver, Fabienne added: "I’m over the moon! I never win anything and I’ve worked so hard for this, so I’m really, really pleased. I know of couple of people who have applied in the past who weren’t successful but they said I should give it a go anyway to see, so I gave it a go and I was ecstatic to just be here – I didn’t expect to win!"
Gemma Smith, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Manchester, won the bronze medal. She grew up in Tunbridge Wells.
Gemma studies porous materials with a view to using them for the capture of sulphur dioxide gas. Sulphur dioxide is made by burning fossil fuels and is harmful to human health and the environment, so it’s important to be able to capture it before it is released into the atmosphere.
She said: "The fact that my research has a very real application is really motivating, especially when we get positive results."
In response to winning Bronze, Gemma added: "It feels great but very unexpected. It was an amazing experience just coming here today, and this is just a bonus to leave with a prize."