Can you remember the name of the teacher who had the biggest impact on the career path you chose? For one Kilmarnock born CERN scientist, Dr Victoria Martin, it was her forward-thinking physics teacher, Mr Samson.

She has been sharing her memories as part of the Scottish Government’s “Inspiring Teachers” campaign which encourages more people to enter the profession, particularly those specialising in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths.


She may spend her days unlocking the secrets of the universe, but for a young Victoria Martin her love of science all started with a simple Ladybird book. Puzzled by a particular page on fractions, the seven-year old sat at her home in Kilmarnock reading it over and over determined to figure it out. Little did she know that it would lead to one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of the century: the discovery of the Higgs boson.

Now a senior reader at the University of Edinburgh, Martin heads up the Edinburgh team at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva – home of the large Hadron Collider, the machine that helped them find the so-called God Particle.

Clearly born with a bright and inquisitive mind, it is, however, her teachers at Kilmarnock’s Grange Academy that the 41 year-old physicist credits with unlocking her potential. “I had really good teachers all the way through secondary school and remember doing lots of experiments with ticker tape. My favourite, however, was Mr Samson who took our Higher and SYS Physics class. Teaching us the curriculum was essential but it was when he let us loose to work on our own projects that my love for the subject truly unfolded.

“He was a forward-thinking teacher who gave us a lot of freedom to work at our own pace, chase our own ideas and be our own motivators. To be a good scientist you need to be an independent thinker and to be able to work on your own. Teaching pupils life skills like these – on top of the conventional lessons – instils them with a sense of confidence that carries them on in their chosen career.”

Martin went on to study Physics at the University of Edinburgh in 1992. She was one of the last students to be taught by Professor Higgs – the man who came up with the theory of a particle that acts as a building block for life by giving the others around it mass – before he retired. It was fitting, then, that she was an integral part of the team that found it in 2012 and one of the people chosen to accompany him to Stockholm to receive his Nobel prize. Today, she continues to carry on the work, recreating the Big Bang to create the conditions where the Higgs Boson first existed, striving to answer the many questions surrounding its existence.

“Teachers like Mr Samson are absolutely critical to the scientific community,” she adds. “If I hadn’t been encouraged and been given the chance to learn independently I certainly would not have been so confident in my life choices or my work.”


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