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Physics and Astronomy student awarded grant from Innovative Scholarships Programme

8 June 2022

Image of Gayathri Eknath

Gayathri Eknath from the School of Physics and Astronomy at Cardiff University is one of nine talented students to benefit from an innovative fund set up by leading physicist Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell and the Institute of Physics (IOP).

Gayathri is studying for a PhD and her research focuses on dust emission and its interplay with gas in the interstellar medium of galaxies. She has been looking at existing observations of our large neighbouring galaxy - Andromeda - in order to understand how and why properties of dust vary within it and whether this has any influence on star formation. Understanding these dust property variations may give crucial clues towards the physical structure and chemical composition of dust grains, helping us build a better understanding of the chemical evolution of galaxies. Her current work uses data from telescopes like the Herschel Space Observatory, Combined Array for Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA) and the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope.

The Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund was set up to encourage diversity in physics by assisting talented students from under-represented groups to study PhD physics.

Dame Jocelyn, a former president of the IOP, was awarded the 2019 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for her role in the discovery of pulsars, and for her continued scientific leadership and engagement with the scientific and wider communities.

The Breakthrough Prize award included £2.3m, which she immediately donated to the IOP to help counter what she described as ‘the unconscious bias that still exists in physics research’ saying:

"I don't need the money myself, and it seemed to me that this was perhaps the best use I could put it to."

The Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund was the result. It is a doctoral scholarships fund that aims to encourage diversity in physics, by assisting students from groups under-represented in the physics research community to undertake physics PhD programmes.

Rachel Youngman, Deputy Chief Executive of the Institute of Physics, commented:

“This year I am delighted we are supporting nine well deserving students to further their studies and build their careers in physics.

“We need physicists in order to rise to the economic challenge of building a zero-carbon economy and the more diverse we can make our pool of physics researchers and innovators the stronger and more creative it will be.

“The fund set up by Dame Jocelyn is already helping to achieve this. To date, it has enabled 21 students to embark upon a physics PhD, helping them to start their journey to a rewarding and exciting career.

Cardiff Physics and Astronomy student, Gayathri Eknath, said: “I am really grateful to the Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund panel for selecting me, and to Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell and the Institute of Physics for ensuring such a fund exists. Using this scholarship, I will be able to continue learning about the causes of variations in dust properties in Andromeda and their effects on star-forming regions using observations taken by the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in a new large programme (HASHTAG).”

Dr Matt Smith, Director of Postgraduate Research, said: “Gayathri is an incredibly motivated student, and it is great to see her efforts to secure funding being rewarded by receiving the IOP Bell Burnell scholarship. We look forward to seeing Gayathri’s research potentially unlocking some of the mysteries of the cosmic-dust in Andromeda.”

The Chair of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity Committee, Dr Cosimo Inserra said: “Diversity is what we need to face the new challenges of the Universe. This award to Gayathri is a reflection of her fantastic and enthusiastic approach to science and a true reflection that this is the right way forward to improve society and our understanding of Physics.”

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