BY AZARIA HOWELL
Catherine Pot, aged 19, is a self-confessed science geek who grew up with a spinal cord injury. Her passion is physics, specifically electromagnetism, a field of science most people regard as being extremely difficult. A recipient of the Prime Minister’s Future Scientist award, she has travelled to various international competitions for physics. From day to day, Catherine is a student at Victoria University of Wellington, studying physics and advocating for women to be involved with science. She uses a segway to travel around the Victoria campus, and is not letting her disability stop her from achieving great things.
Like many people who developed a passion for a particular subject, having a qualified and interesting teacher helped Catherine find her love for science. Catherine told TEARAWAY in an interview, “the usual thing [that gets most people into science] is being interested in how stuff works. I also had a really good teacher, and then the loop continued.”
The scientist said she never really liked writing essays at school and found it bland compared to conducting experiments and finding out how things work. Catherine is an inspiration to so many women, scientists, and people with disabilities. She says her current inspiration is her physics teacher, Kent Hogan. “I got to see how he would teach other people, and how other people’s ideas changed about science and whether they were interested in it.”
Despite being a university student, Catherine finds time to compete, representing New Zealand in international physics tournaments. She says that she does not find electromagnetism, her field of physics, particularly difficult, even though many physicists shy away from the topic. Catherine finds international competitions interesting and thrilling for her. She has been to competitions in Russia and Thailand so far, and is hoping to go to more.
While competing internationally in science, she also achieves very highly on a local and national level. Catherine was awarded the best overall exhibit at the Wellington Science Fair.
In addition, she was a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Future Scientist Prize, an award given to students in their senior year of secondary school, for their endless dedication to a scientific project. The prize consists of a $50,000 scholarship going towards the costs of tertiary study, which was very beneficial to her.
When she realised she won the award, Catherine was speechless, stating, “I was absolutely shocked, I couldn’t speak. Not too many things tend to shock me or make me not speak, and that was one of them. It was an accumulation of all the hard work that I’ve put into this since I was about 14.”
This dedicated scientist believes that women should get involved as much as they can with science if they are passionate about it. She told TEARAWAY, “people end up getting the perception that only the good scientists are men.” Clearly not all the good scientists are male, however, because Catherine Pot has been passionate about science since a very young age. I’d consider her more than just a “good scientist.”
Her message to those interested and passionate about something is to keep trying and never give up.
Her advice to people with disabilities is “if you’ve been told that your disability is going to hold you back, then ignore them.” She says people should always try their best, no matter what their best is.
Catherine is an example of not letting her disability define her, and striving for excellence. She has inspired many with her story, and will go on to become a great physicist in the future, whilst still inspiring so many.
AZARIA HOWELL is a huge politics nerd living in Christchurch. Expect lots of new political articles on Tearaway from her! She also loves snowboarding, Beagles, and wearing clunky boots.
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