Inspiring the Next Generation of Physicists: Winners Announced in Prestigious ‘What Lights Up Your Love Of Physics?’ Competition

Nearly 100 schools from across the nation submitted entries to into the first ‘What Lights Up Your Love Of Physics?’ competition, and the standard of entries was incredibly high. After rigorous evaluation by a distinguished panel of judges, the top 10 finalists were invited to a one-night residential event at the historic Merton College, University of Oxford, on the 8th to 9th April 2024.

Merton College, which has been at the forefront of education and research since 1264, provided the perfect backdrop for this celebration of young physicists. The top ten videos showcased creativity and ingenuity through a diverse array of topics, ranging from black holes and exoplanets to the physics of sport and the elusive theory of everything.

Professors Simon Saunders, Alan Barr and Oliver Pooley, esteemed judges from the University of Oxford, were blown away by the depth and breadth of physics knowledge demonstrated by the finalists in their concise three-minute films. Many of the videos went beyond A-Level Physics, highlighting how physics is all around us.

The overall winner was Charlotte from Bishop Luffa School, Chichester. Her captivating video titled “The Man Who Measured Time to Save Lives” explored the remarkable story of John Harrison, complete with a compelling narrative, engaging content, and even a LEGO model of the grasshopper escapement. Laura from Leeds Mathematics School clinched second place with her poetic exploration of Physics, while Joseph, Krystian, and Thomas, from Bishop Stopford School, secured third place with their enlightening video on “Emission Spectroscopy.”

The winners were announced during a two-day residential at Merton College, where students premiered their videos and engaged in Q&A sessions with the judges. The event also featured a formal dinner, a captivating talk by Dr. Becky Smethurst, astrophysicist and YouTuber, and tours of Oxford University’s Department of Physics.

Dr. Smethurst, who has 744,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel, inspired students with her journey from school to astrophysics research and science communicator. She encouraged them to embrace failure and know that no career decision is permanent. The lab tours provided a glimpse into the world of advanced research, from quantum computing to applied superconductivity.

As the winning school, Bishop Luffa School will receive funding to visit CERN, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory, providing an unparalleled opportunity to witness science in action. Charlotte said she had really enjoyed the residential. “The setting for the prize event at Merton College, and the fascinating videos produced by the other students, made the whole experience really inspiring”.

Professor Simon Saunders, the visionary behind this competition, offered his reflections on the event, saying, “I was struck by how much thought the students showed in talking about their videos, how much hard work they had put in, and how researched the topics were. I was impressed as well to see they knew the physics even better than was clear from their films. No-one was bluffing. And they were stronger in the heart as well; full as the videos are with inspiration in their subject, still more was on show on the stage.”

The competition, organised by Physics Partners in collaboration with Merton College and the University of Oxford Physics Department, was made possible through generous funding from the John Templeton Foundation.

Competition Partners