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Marta Bielinska has won the 2023 Du Châtelet Prize in Philosophy of Physics

This prestigious prize is awarded to early-career scholars working in the field of philosophy of physics. Submissions are considered by a committee of established academics and the winning paper each year is considered for publication in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

Marta is a Welfare Dean at Oriel College, and is studying for a DPhil in Science and Religion. Her academic research explores the intersection between physics and philosophy.

She has previously completed an MSc in Mathematical and Theoretical Physics at Oriel College, with a thesis on so-called “hidden symmetries” supervised by Oriel Fellow and Professor of Mathematical Physics James Sparks. She also holds a BPhil in Philosophy from the University of Oxford.

Through her MSc thesis, Marta explored hidden symmetries from the point of view of a physicist. But she had unanswered questions about the sense in which the symmetries are hidden. These were questions of a philosophical flavour. 

“Symmetries in physics are features of physical systems that do not change under transformation. Hidden symmetries are generally described, in imprecise terms, as symmetries that are not obvious from the geometry of the system,” she said.

“This may suggest that they are merely more difficult to discover than non-hidden symmetries. However, I had an intuition that there’s much more to say about this, especially from a philosophical angle.

“I mentioned these concerns to my friend Caspar, who is a specialist in philosophy of symmetries, and after exchanging some thoughts, we decided to explore the topic together.”

An Assistant Professor at Leiden University, Caspar had previously worked as a Junior Research Fellow at Merton College and completed a DPhil in Philosophy at the University of Oxford.

In their paper, Marta and Caspar explore a number of examples of hidden symmetries, arguing that they present new challenges to some deep-rooted assumptions that are made about symmetries in the philosophical literature. 

Marta is pursuing a career in academia but described how she is also passionate about the popularisation of science and also promoting equal access to education.

“I believe in teaching, a lot. Tutoring is not simply about training students in certain skills. Primarily it’s about giving our time to accompany them on the way to understanding the world better and growing as persons,” she added. 

Marta recently spoke at the Copernicus Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies, an educational institution associated with Jagiellonian University in Poland which is centred on the popularisation of science. She also volunteers as a tutor at the Polish Children’s Fund, the largest NGO in Poland supporting gifted schoolchildren.