For the study of physics to progress, it needs outsider perspectives. This is the belief that led groundbreaking astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell to establish a scholarship fund for underrepresented students. Our job was to create an inspiring set of films to launch the new programme.
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 the entire $3m prize pot 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.
The IOP used the donation to set up the Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund and asked us to make a film to promote its launch. Set to feature Jocelyn Bell Burnell herself, the film needed to explain why the Fund was created, what it was, and appeal directly to potential applicants from many different walks of life.
We came up with a creative concept that combines documentary-style footage with animation that makes the piece feel dynamic, but also human-centred and accessible. We chose to adopt the red, black and white from the IOP palette as a striking colour scheme for the animations, creating a clear visual link to the IOP brand.
The anchor for the film 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 success 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 .
We went on to 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.
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 there is diversity within the groups of people looking at some of the fundamental questions facing humanity.