Professor Pete Vukusic with students in Addis Ababa.

Exeter physicist sheds light on science with Ethiopian school children

A University of Exeter physicist has shared his love of science with nearly 600 school children in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Ababa.

Professor Pete Vukusic toured five schools during a week-long visit of the city, giving eight lectures on the University’s world-leading research into the science of light and colour.

Working with a local guide, Professor Vukusic arranged access to state schools in some of the poorest parts of the city and gave lectures to students aged 15 to 20. Although he had prepared his presentations, he had to adapt to the different surroundings he encountered: while some schools had facilities for him to show slides, some classrooms had no electricity and one did not have a blackboard or whiteboard.

His tour was supported by the Institute of Physics.

Professor Pete Vukusic is an expert on light manipulation and colour and leads the University of Exeter’s research in natural photonics. His expertise is in how colour is formed through structures found in nature: from the dazzling iridescence of a butterfly’s wings to the pure black of a beetle’s shell. He has worked with external companies, including L’Oreal and Imerys Minerals on developing new techniques to mimic nature’s designs in products ranging from cosmetics to paper.

Formerly a teacher, before joining the University’s world-leading Physics team, Professor Vukusic is also well known for his work in outreach and science communication. He was the Institute of Physics Schools Lecturer in 2007 and the Institute of Physics in Ireland’s Schools Lecturer in 2011, delivering over one hundred lectures in schools across the UK and Ireland. In 2008 he was awarded the British Association of Science Lord Kelvin Prize for science lecturing and he regularly gives talks to schools across the South West.

Reflecting on his experiences in Addis Ababa Professor Pete Vukusic said: “This has been an enlightening and humbling experience. The children and students I spoke to had a very real hunger for knowledge and I have rarely known classes be so fascinated and engaged. In the midst of an apparent lack of resources and facilities, some students’ natural ability shone brightly. This trip for me has highlighted the importance, value and impact of taking the science we do at the University of Exeter out to communities in other parts the world.”

Professor Vukusic is preparing more science outreach visits to several other countries across Africa.

Date: 21 May 2012