Top Irish physics students honored

11 December 2018

Chair of the IOP in Ireland, Professor David Riley, presented awards to Ireland’s top physics students.

The awards included Silver Medals to the top Leaving Certificate physics students, the top Northern Ireland A-level physics student and the Earnshaw Award for the best physics final year undergraduate project in Ireland.

The event, held at the Royal Dublin Society, was attended by friends and members of the IOP Ireland together with the students, their families and teachers.  

The students who received Silver Medals were:

Leaving Certificate Physics

Student awards Cait
Cait McDonagh

Cait McDonagh, Dominican College Muckross Park, Dublin
Teacher – Dan Farrell
Cait is now studying economics and finance in UCD

Arno Von Kietzell, Dunshaughlin Community College, Co. Meath
Teacher Shane McGrath
Arno is now studying physics and music at Edinburgh University. His medal was presented to his father in his absence.

Northern Ireland A-Level Physics

Molly Brennan, Loreto College, Coleraine
Teachers - Maeve Close and Katrina Brolly
Molly is now studying mathematics at Durham University

Earnshaw Award for best final year undergraduate physics project

Student awards Eoin

Eoin Farrell of Trinity College Dublin, for his project on the Impact of Binary Interaction on the Evolution of Blue Supergiant Stars.


Speaking at the event, Professor David Riley noted the recent and very positive news about Ireland joining the European Southern Observatory in October 2018, and the increase in female students taking physics at Leaving Certificate - up from 24% in 2016 to almost 28% in 2018. 

IOP has put significant resources into support for teaching physics through its teacher networks, and also by providing accurate and engaging careers materials. Professor Riley congratulated the students receiving their awards, saying that: “Taking physics opens doors at all levels for apprentices, technicians and graduates to explore options in science and engineering where there are excellent employment prospects.

“Physics has a critical role to play in Ireland, with physics-based industries providing over 287,000 jobs and €38bn annually to the Irish economy. But to sustain the pipeline of physics graduates we urgently need to increase the number of physics teachers in the country. Last year only 41 new physics teachers registered with the Teaching Council - a huge imbalance in the numbers qualified in physics compared to other sciences, with physics teachers making up just 17% of the cohort of science teachers.”

Professor Riley also expressed concern that around a quarter of second-level schools across Ireland are not offering physics at Leaving Certificate level at all:

“It is essential that specific targets are set to increase the numbers of physics teachers and that these targets are matched with funding. To deny the students of a full quarter of Irish schools the chance to study this highly valued subject runs counter to all government efforts to increase the uptake of physical sciences, which are critical to this country’s economy.”

Many of these issues have long been highlighted by the IOP, which has developed significant resources for the needs of ‘out-of-field’ teachers. This includes the Stimulating Physics Network, now embedded and successful in England, and its Improving Gender Balance project in Scotland. 

Such interventions have led to:

  • an increase in the participation of girls in post-16 physics to double the national average
  • increasing student numbers progressing to AS-level physics at more than double the national rate
  • significantly raising the proportion of students achieving A*-C grades in physics GCSE compared to the national average.

Professor Riley said that the Institute, in partnership with the Government, would very much like to develop similar and appropriate support in Ireland. He called for the swift implementation of the STEM Education advisory group proposals to strengthen the teaching and learning of physics in Irish schools.

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