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Introducing...Dr Kate Shaw

Dr Kate Shaw

Staff and students at a Physics Without Frontiers workshop in Kabul University.

Dr Kate Shaw is an experimental particle physicist in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at Sussex, and is currently working on the ATLAS Experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Dr Shaw is also the founder of the ICTP Physics Without Frontiers programme and has recently returned from a five-day trip to Kabul, Afghanistan.

What is Physics without Frontiers?

I founded Physics Without Frontiers several years ago whilst I was teaching at Birzeit University in Palestine. Working with my colleague Professor Bobby Acharya and a fantastic team of volunteers, we lead a number of projects in countries that are lagging behind in terms of their science and technology education and research at universities, such as Venezuela, Nepal and Palestine. We hope that through organising workshops, schools and courses for physics students, we can help places to build up their own research and science capacity. This will make sure there are people around to inspire the next generation of researchers.

You recently returned from Afghanistan. What was your experience like?

The reason I can go to places like Afghanistan is because UNESCO support us with the huge logistical challenge of going there. We stayed in a secure compound where other NGOs work, and we travelled in an armoured car wherever we went. Security aside, it was a really rewarding experience as the Afghan people are extremely hospitable and it was such a pleasure to meet such driven and passionate students and lecturers!

What is Kabul University like?

Kabul University is, in many ways, like any other university. There are students sitting on the grass, chatting and reading, much like here at Sussex. It’s really nice to see that universities can be sanctuaries for learning wherever you go in the world. Even though the students at Kabul University often live in complicated and difficult circumstances, they have the same aspirations as students in any other part of the world - it’s just so inspiring to spend time with them and hear their stories.

What did you do during your two-day workshop in Kabul?

The physics department hadn’t had visitors for many years and so there was a large welcome event. This was a great opportunity for everyone to network and talk about physics. We then held back-to-back lectures on particle physics and cosmology which was really intense for the students. We were understanding if there were any gaps in the knowledge but we really wanted to challenge them.

We also use these visits as an opportunity to help countries to forge links with other organisations such as the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) and CERN. In Kabul, we met with the Chancellor of the University, the Deans of the Schools and other decisions makers to tell them about how important physics is and why they should invest in this area of research.

You were joined by Wakil Sarfaraz, a PhD student studying at Sussex. How did this come about?

I was introduced to Wakil by colleague. Wakil is from Afghanistan and so his knowledge of the country was a great help. He acted as a translator at some of the sessions as well as giving a talk at the end of the first day as a guest speaker. Having students who come from the country we’re visiting really helps and I hope that we can invite more students to participate in our future trips.

Do you keep in touch with the students who take part in the workshops?

Yes, and we really want to be there to support them if they want to go on to further study. I can think of several Palestinian students who have since gone on to further study. Quite a few are doing PhDs and post-docs in Europe and it’s great to see the benefit that our project can have. Many also take an active role in Physics Without Frontiers and help to mentor other students who come through the programme.

What does the future hold for Physics without Frontiers?

We’re just getting started. We’re hoping that we can expand to even more countries if we can secure enough funding to keep inspiring the next generation of physics researchers.

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By: Daniel Chard
Last updated: Friday, 1 June 2018

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