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Institute of Physics awards Ian Helliwell for his services to students

Posted on 22 October 2019

Ian, a member of the Department of Physics' Teaching Laboratories staff, has received a technician's award for his dedication and contributions to practical physics training of undergraduate and secondary school students.

Photo of Ian Helliwell

Ian is the head technician in the Department of Physics' teaching laboratories at the University of York, and leads a team of three technicians delivering all practical laboratory sessions. This includes experiment delivery, demonstrating, script generation, health and safety, student attendance and wellbeing, enabling the successful delivery of hands-on physics to 500 students annually.

Ian has been fundamental in setting up the undergraduate training course in optics and in experimental, nuclear, astronomical and computational physics. He has contributed to a 100% increase in undergraduate student intake from 100 to 200 through engagement with prospective students and parents, gaining 91% of feedback as either excellent or good. He personally arranges catch-up sessions for students that have missed laboratory training sessions, ensuring they don’t fall behind. To accommodate the increase in numbers, Ian led a team of technicians, academics and facility personnel in the structural redevelopment of teaching laboratories, courteously and professionally resolving competing demands and ensuring delivery of a fit-for-purpose laboratory. 

The project involved the design of space, implementation of new timetabling one year in advance, and the purchase/construction of new experiments. This fundamentally changed the laboratory technicians’ working practices, reducing re-work and improving the use of facility space, including doubling the size of the computational laboratory without reducing the main teaching area footprint. The project was successfully delivered on time and budget in readiness for the new academic year.

Institute of Physics President, Jonathan Flint CBE, said:

“The IOP is extremely proud to be offering these awards. Technicians are science professionals in their own right, and it is time they received the status, acknowledgement and reward they deserve. We want these new IOP awards to help highlight the crucial role of technicians in education, research and industry, and raise understanding of their professional status. This is the first time that the IOP has recognised technicians for the outstanding contribution they make to the physics community. Technicians help create and deliver the experiments that thrill school students and support the technical teaching of undergraduates and postgraduates. Without them, physics-based industries could not function and we could not expand our understanding of the natural world.”

As part of Ian’s continuing professional development, he has invested personal time in extracurricular activities for students in higher/secondary education, including work experience placements for 15- 16-year-old students. This has involved the design of experiments and the delivery of practical work in schools and the University to inspire students to follow STEM careers. As part of his role he has co-delivered the Magnetic Liquids lecture series to a wide range of audiences, including the local section of the Institute of Physics (IOP), schools and conferences. Between 2018 and 2019 Ian also completed our Leadership in Action programme, following successful selection by the University. 

Ian acts as a coach and mentor to his team members and others in the organisation. For two years, he acted as the interim technical manager in the Department when, in addition to his teaching laboratories responsibilities, he took ownership of the whole technical provision. This involved managing a team of six technical specialists and five electrical/mechanical engineers to deliver a bespoke service to academic research. Ian is a fundamental part of the Department of Physics at the University, where he has made a significant and sustained contribution to its success.