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Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund

9 June 2022

University PhD student awarded grant from innovative scholarships programme

Stephen Donegan is one of 10 talented students to benefit from an innovative fund set up by leading physicist Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell and the Institute of Physics (IOP).

Stephen is studying for a PhD in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics. He will be working with Dr Otti Croze, developing photo-bioreactors - systems that use sunlight to grow algae, which is then harvested and turned into fuel or food products. 

He said: “I'm honoured to be chosen to receive this award, the Bell-Burnell Fund helps early career physicists to progress and engage in world changing science. I've worked incredibly hard at the University of York to attain a masters, I'm already gearing up to work even harder at Newcastle on my doctorate.

“It's exciting to be working with a technology that can support our energy security, whilst reducing carbon emissions. I enjoyed working at Newcastle on an internship a few years ago, I'm so excited to be coming back to commence my career as a physicist.” 

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 IOP, 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.   


“Among those we have assisted so far are a young woman who embarked upon research into radiographic analysis tools for cancer detection, a young man whose parents were forced to flee violence and discrimination in their homeland, who was able to pursue cosmology research, and a young woman who went onto a PhD programme to develop an infrared detector capable of non-invasively measuring blood glucose.  


“There is no doubt that this fund will ultimately benefit many people, and I am delighted to congratulate this year’s awardees.”