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Physicist makes 1000th outreach visit, pioneering Japanese physicist’s time in the UK is celebrated – Physics World


Brad Gibson
Reaching out: Brad Gibson at Thoresby Primary School in Hull. (Courtesy: University of Hull)

Congratulations to University of Hull physicist Brad Gibson who this week celebrated his 1000th visit to a school in the region.

Gibson began doing schools outreach in 2016, focusing on those that have a significant proportion of children who grew up in deprivation.

On Wednesday, Gibson travelled to Thoresby Primary School – the seventh time he has visited the west Hull school since 2019 – marking the 1000th visit to a school. In that time, he estimates to have reached some 70 000 pupils through his space talks.

“I really like it when I manage to maintain a relationship with a school because you get to see children progress and you can really help build their imaginations and knowledge,” notes Gibson. “It is critical to give children access to opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have in society. I try and show them that science can be an exciting career.”

Stopped in the street

He says he is often stopped in the street by students or parents who thank him for sharing his passion for science.

And the enthusiasm seems to have rubbed off. In 2016, around 15% of students studying physics at Hull came from a college that the university had a connection with. That percentage is now at 50%.

In 1963 Fumiko Yonezawa arrived at the UK’s Keele University as a research student. Yonezawa was from Suita in Japan’s Osaka Prefecture and she was the first Japanese student to attend Keele, which opened the previous year.

Yonezawa spent two years at the university working with the theoretical chemist and physicist Roy McWeeny. She then returned to Japan, where she had a distinguished career in theoretical physics. In 1981, she was a founding member of Keio University’s department of physics, where she led a team that did computer simulations and visualizations of amorphous materials.

Pioneering president

In 1996, Yonezawa became the first woman to be President of the Physics Society of Japan and in 2005 she won the L’Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science for her “pioneering theory and computer simulations on amorphous semiconductors and liquid metals”.

Yonezawa died in 2019 age 80 and in 2020 the Physical Society of Japan created the Fumiko Yonezawa Memorial Award, which is given to “honour and encourage” female members of the society.

Now, a plaque honouring Yonezawa has been unveiled at Keele University by her daughter Rumiko. “The plaque is not just a celebration for my mother and the family but the whole community of female scientists, and also the connection between Japan, Keele and the UK,” she said.

Yonezawa travelled to the UK in 1963 because her husband was studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She wrote to the vice chancellors of 30 British universities asking for a scholarship to study physics at the postgraduate level. Two universities made offers and she chose Keele, which covered Yonezawa’s tuition, accommodation and meal fees and gave her a monthly scholarship.

Exciting memories

“She had lots of interesting and exciting memories she used to tell me about,” said Yonezawa’s daughter. “One time her mother-in-law sent her a big box of dried instant ramen noodles and she cooked those for her friends in her halls and everybody loved them.”


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