We were delighted to hear that Cait MacPhee, Professor of Biological Physics at the University of Edinburgh, was recognised in the 2016 New Year’s Honours list with a CBE for services to Women in Physics.
Cait is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Chemistry, and the Society of Biology, and is a member of the RSE Young Academy of Scotland. Her core interests are on protein self-assembly and intrinsically disordered proteins. Much of her research is industry focussed and she is part of the management committee of the Edinburgh Complex Fluids Partnership whose aim is to advance and innovate formulation and complex fluid design and processes. Additional interests include Astrobiology and the origins of life, the challenges of interdisciplinarity and overcoming the challenges and barriers to women in STEM fields.
It has long been recognised that students decide whether they have an aptitude and liking for science subjects before they reach secondary school. So to increase the proportion of girls taking science, particularly in physics where the proportion of female students hovers consistently around 20-25%, it is necessary to increase and improve science at primary school. Recognising that many primary school teachers do not have a science background, and in addition to an extensive outreach programme in both primary and secondary schools, Cait has worked with primary school teachers to increase their confidence in incorporating science into day-to-day lessons.
Together with collaborators at the University of Edinburgh and universities of Hull and Manchester, Cait conducted a study to better understand the influence of gender on academic achievement in physics. This evidence-based approach was able to feed into the University of Edinburgh School of Physics and Astronomy’s bid for IOP Juno Champion status, adding to its Athena Swan Silver award. In 2013 she co-authored a paper on gender differences in conceptual understanding of Newtonian mechanics, providing an evidence-based approach to identifying causes and potential remedies for gender gaps in physics education. The paper is available at http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/0143-0807/34/2/421.
Cait said: "It's been a lot of fun to work with teachers and students, but the best bit is asking the students ‘so, who wants to be a scientist?’ and seeing a sea of hands. Even if they don't go on to study science, hopefully we demystify it a bit."
We congratulate Cait on this well-deserved award and look forward to further outstanding contributions to Scottish physics.