Professor Vukusic in Malawi

Professor Peter Vukusic awarded 2013 Royal Society Kohn Award

Professor Vukusic is known internationally for his team’s research into biological photonics, as well as his dedication to science communication. His efforts in outreach are now being rewarded by the Council of the Royal Society.

The charismatic professor has now been honoured with the 2013 Royal Society Kohn Award for Excellence in Engaging the Public with Science.

Professor Vukusic continues to promote an open, dynamic dialogue about the importance of research in a university setting, both through his demonstrations and inclusive teaching methods, as well as his visits to schools across the UK and to disadvantaged students in Africa.

The annual Royal Society Kohn Award is presented to a UK-based scientist who undertakes exceptional public engagement activities that make “strategic impacts on institutions, organisations and cultures,” according to the Royal Society. The award consists of a silver gilt medal, a grant of £7,500 for science communication activities and a gift of £2,500.

As a lecturer and researcher, Professor Vukusic places a keen emphasis on incorporating research into mainstream university teaching. His passion for introducing his students to up-to-date research encourages them to engage with important scientific ideas and concepts on a more personal and interest-based level.

Professor Vukusic’s investigations into “natural structural colour” began at the University of Exeter after working closely with Professor Roy Sambles, the current overall Head of the Electromagnetic Materials group. He was awarded a Research Council Advanced Fellowship, which allowed him to form his own research group and to conduct further research investigating how light and colour is manipulated by animals and plants to create the diverse array of appearances we observe in the natural world.

Prior to university lecturing he was also a secondary school teacher for a number of years. “It was a great privilege to have been able to work as a school science teacher" said Professor Vukusic. “Those years in school classrooms provided essential lessons and science communication experience, most especially about the critical importance of trying to engage and motivate both younger and older audiences when conveying scientific ideas.”

Since then, Professor Vukusic who is in the Department of Physics has been awarded the L’Oreal Art and Science of Colour Prize in 2005, has been named the Institute of Physics Schools Lecturer in 2007, the British Association of Science Lord Kelvin Award lecturer in 2008 and the Institute of Physics Ireland Schools Lecturer in 2011. In the UK and Ireland alone he has given over five hundred visiting lectures at primary schools, secondary schools and science societies.

More recently, working with the Institute of Physics Africa programme, he travelled to rural schools in Malawi and Ethiopia to deliver series of science outreach lectures to disadvantaged school children. His dynamic and engaging teaching style was hugely popular, appealing to students and local teachers more accustomed to very traditional and didactic teaching methods.
Professor Vukusic’s contribution to science outreach has set a first class example in effective and impactful public engagement in science. “There is so much value and importance in a broader and better public appreciation of science,” says Professor Vukusic. “I feel very lucky to have had the fantastic support and outreach opportunities, so that in some small way I might have helped people try to understand and appreciate the basic scientific rules that govern the working of the world and universe around us.”

Date: 22 July 2013

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