Pearl John has transferred a passion for the art of holography into an international career which is inspiring future scientists and engineers. She spent five years teaching laser technology in the U.S state of Missouri before moving to Southampton in 2003 to promote the rich programme of outreach activities in Physics and Astronomy. Pearl’s work as a Public Engagement Leader helps academics get their research out to the public through routes such as the Light Express roadshow, a popular laser light display.
Pearl was born in Westminster and raised in Brighton. She developed an interest in holography, the practice of making holograms, at an early age. “l saw my first holograms at an exhibition in London and just fell in love with them,” she says. “I started making holograms at home from age 15. They are quite magical to me; it is extraordinary to have something that is and isn’t there. People always respond with a sense of wonder when they see holograms being made.”
Pearl is currently completing a part-time PhD in Holography while also teaching younger people how to make holograms as an outreach activity. “I am making three-dimensional family trees holographically,” she explains. “I’m interested in using the depth of the holographic space to represent time.” Pearl’s work is on display at the Museum of Optical Technologies in St Petersburg and she has previously exhibited at the MIT Museum in Massachusetts, USA.
She completed a Masters in Holography at London’s Royal College of Art before undertaking specialist training for artists in schools at the Institute of Education in London. She moved to America for five years and worked with High School students as a Laser Instructor for the Columbia Area Career Center. Pearl seized the opportunity to return to England in 2003 for a role coordinating the Light Express roadshow at the University of Southampton. She has championed the University’s Physics and Astronomy department at schools, colleges and with the general public over the last decade, serving as an Outreach Officer for the South East Physics Network (SEPnet).
“My role is so varied and exciting that no two days look the same,” she says. “Day to day I can be running holography workshops at schools, hosting visiting classes for hands-on physics workshops or teaching an undergraduate ambassadors module which sends students out into the classroom to run their own physics activities. One of my more recent projects was to help a designer create a show garden based on the International Year of Light at the Royal Horticultural Show in Tatton Park. Our team taught her about fibre optics and provided scientists to speak to the general public as we helped the garden win a People’s Choice Award and a gold medal at the event.”
Pearl can offer academics in Physics and Astronomy practical advice and opportunities for public engagement with different audiences. She is also able to provide students with training and openings to practice their engagement with the public. “l can help putting together the Pathways to Impact section of grant applications and suggest places, methods and audiences for working with the public,” she says. “Plan your public engagement activities really carefully, right through to the end. You must be thinking how you will evaluate whether your activity has been successful or not.”
Members of industry are invited to contact Pearl for opportunities to participate with the department’s outreach activities. She is looking to work with industrial partners and schools interested in investment opportunities for new collaborations. You can get in touch with Pearl using the form on this page.
Pearl is trying to advance the careers of women in Physics and Astronomy through the Athena SWAN programme. The department has been recognised with a Bronze Award, which staff hope to upgrade to silver status through the deployment of an action plan over the coming three years.
“The reason there aren’t equal numbers of men and women studying physics is a cultural one,” Pearl explains. “Other countries do not suffer the imbalance that we do. In Iran, physics is a female subject while men do engineering. We are battling against culture so we have to work at a whole school level and target mothers and grandmothers to ensure they support their daughters or granddaughters to study physics.”