7 January 2021
Former Bolton School Girls’ Division pupil Dr Becky Smethurst has been awarded the Institute of Physics’ 2020 Mary Somerville Medal and Prize, which recognises exceptional early career contributions to public engagement in physics.
In picking up the £1,000 prize money and certificate, she was praised for engaging a diverse, global audience with complex astrophysical ideas presented at an accessible level with a large dose of enthusiasm on her YouTube channel Dr Becky. Her engaging and enthusiastic presentations have enabled her to build a following of over 100,000 subscribers and to clock up over six million views.
Not only does Becky present these videos, she researches, produces and edits the content on a weekly basis alongside her research. She is known for being able to take complex ideas and break them down piece by piece to a level that people are able to engage with.
Some of her most popular videos have covered the history of an idea in physics over the centuries, such as dark matter, to highlight how these theories don’t just spring up over night. By adding references to popular culture and by not taking herself too seriously, she has been able to consistently engage with her viewers. In particular, Becky states that she likes to be “unapologetically feminine” on her channel in the hope of highlighting that femininity and science are not mutually exclusive concepts.
Along with her YouTube films, Becky regularly speaks to the public through more traditional media outlets, including a monthly half-hour slot on BBC Radio Oxford.
When astronomy news breaks she can often be heard making it accessible and entertaining for the public on Radio 5 Live, Radio 4, LBC talk radio and various local radio stations.
She has also appeared on both BBC News and Channel 4 News discussing breaking astronomy news stories.
Becky is also the author of the popular astronomy book Space: 10 Things You Should Know, which was ranked one of Sky at Night magazine’s most popular space books of 2019.
Becky left Bolton School in 2008 and went on to study a Physics with Astronomy MPhys at Durham University and then an Astrophysics PhD at Oxford University. She was back in School in the Spring of 2019 when she worked with AS and A2-level Physics students and a number of GCSE pupils.