Professor Peter Vukusic, teaching schoolchildren in Tanzania

Exeter expert wins prestigious Physics award

A University of Exeter physics expert has been bestowed with a prestigious award, for his significant widening participation and outreach work.

Professor Peter Vukusic has been named as the 2014 winner of the Bragg Medal, awarded by the Institute of Physics.

The citation made reference to Professor Vukusic’s “significant and impactful contribution to widening participation in physics education and outreach”.

The prestigious award was instituted by the Council of the Institute of Physics and the Physical Society in 1965, with the first award being made in 1967. The medal is named after Sir Lawrence Bragg, who had an international reputation for the popularisation and teaching of physics.  

It is intended to make this award for leading and innovative contributions to the teaching of physics to encourage those people active in developing new methods and approaches.

Speaking after hearing the news, Professor Vukusic said he was “humbled, honoured and delighted to receive the award.”

He said: “With support from the University of Exeter and the Institute of Physics, I’ve been very fortunate, visiting schools all around the UK and in parts of Africa. It has been a genuine privilege to have been able to contribute, in some small way, to the physics and science engagement of these children and students”.

Professor Vukusic’s citation made reference to the vast array of outreach work he has undertaken in recent years. This has included carrying out a national Girls into Physics initiative, designed to improve recruitment of female undergraduates, then working with them to undertake further outreach activities in local schools.

In the last few years, he has broadened the scope of his work to engage with schoolchildren and teachers in more rural regions of Ethiopia, Malawi and, most recently, Tanzania, through the Physics in Africa scheme.

Professor Vukusic began investigating natural structural colour in the University of Exeter School of Physics in 1998. Iridescence and the photonic properties of butterflies and moths were central to his original work but his research team now tries to understand the science behind the colours and appearances of a much broader range of animals and plants throughout biology.

He formed and leads the Biological Photonics research group. The group's research is motivated by the goal of fundamentally understanding naturally evolved strategies at work in the manipulation of light by biological systems.   Its principle aims comprise development of a critical knowledge base of biological strategies involved in natural optical system processes and applying it both to improve existing technologies and to design innovative new optical devices and processes.

Date: 1 July 2014

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