Diversity isn’t rocket science

Institute of Physics
Film and animation

For the study of physics to progress, it needs outsider perspectives. This belief led pioneering astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, working with the Institute of Physics, to establish a fund for underrepresented students. We worked with the Institute to create an inspiring set of films for the fund’s launch.

Black and white physics diagrams surround the text "IS IT JUST FOR PHYSICS?".

Jocelyn Bell Burnell is best known for the pivotal role she played in the discovery of pulsars. However, when this landmark achievement was marked by award of the 1974 Nobel Prize for Physics, Professor Bell Burnell was not named as a laureate, apparently because she was still a student when she carried out the groundbreaking research.

Proper recognition came in 2018, when she was awarded the Breakthrough Prize, both for her work on pulsars and for the leadership Professor Bell Burnell has given to the scientific community throughout her long and distinguished career. She chose to donate her entire $3m prize to the Institute of Physics (IOP). Her only condition was that the money should be use to promote greater diversity among those carrying out the advanced study of physics.

A photo of Jocelyn Bell Burnell in a rotated square on a red background.
The text "She's giving it all away. All of it." in white and red type surrounded by fine red lines organised in star shapes on a black background

The IOP used the donation to set up the Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund and asked us to make some films to promote its launch. Featuring Professor Bell Burnell herself, these films needed to explain why the Fund was created, what it was, and appeal directly to potential applicants from a wide range of backgrounds.

Collage with a cut out hand holding a pencil and writing into a table.

We came up with a creative concept that combines documentary-style footage with animation that makes the films feel dynamic, but also human-centred and accessible. We chose to adopt the red, black and white from the IOP brand palette as a striking colour scheme for the animations, creating a clear visual link back to the IOP.

The text "This fund will encourage everyone. Not just students to get involved" in red and white sits alongside three cut-out headshots of people.

The anchor for the series is an interview we shot with Professor Bell Burnell where she talks about her experiences and ambitions for the Fund. It was important that her personal story clearly came through – after all, it is her background, beliefs and successes that have made all this possible in the first place.

To help bring this story to life, we incorporated a collage of different materials including archive photography, film clips, data visualisations and pages taken from some of Bell Burnell’s original work on pulsars.

Following this interview, we put together three additional mini-documentaries. Each of these films tells the story of women from different parts of the UK and Ireland who are studying physics. They explore the challenges they’ve faced working in a male-dominated field, how they got to where they are today and their goals for the future.

The Scholarship Fund launched in March 2019. Women students, students from minority ethnic backgrounds, students with disabilities, LGBT+ students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds are all encouraged to apply.

Photograph of a young person reading a physics book.

Our films help IOP to spread the word about the Fund, informing potential applicants about a source of financial support that could transform their future. At the same time, they deliver a broader message about the importance of ensuring that there is diversity within the groups of people looking at some of the fundamental questions facing humanity.

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