Women in physics

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Michal Lipson, Eugene Professor in the Departments of Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics at Columbia University. She recounts her childhood as the daughter of a prominent physicist whose work took the family to Israel and then in Brazil, where she spent her formative years in São Paulo. Lipson explains her decision to pursue a degree in physics at Technion in Israel, where she remained to complete her graduate studies in semiconductor physics under the direction of Elisha Cohen. She describes her postdoctoral research at MIT in material science with Lionel Kimerling, and she explains the opportunities that led to her first faculty position at Cornell. Lipson describes her dual interest in pursuing basic science research and industry-relevant work. She discusses her work in photonics which led to her MacArthur fellowship and the significance of her study of slot waveguides and optical amplification in silicon. Lipson describes her subsequent work in nonlinear photonics and high-power lasers, and she explains the opportunity leading to her current position at Columbia, where she has focused on two-dimensional materials. At the end of the interview, Lipson emphasizes the fundamental importance of oscillators that have always informed her research.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Glennys Farrar, professor at New York University, discusses her career and shifting interests within physics. She details her time as an undergraduate student at University of California, Berkeley. Farrar discusses how she chose to attend Princeton University for graduate school to further her interest in particle theory. She discusses her thesis research which calculated the rate of decay for The Lambda under the mentorship of her advisor Sam Treiman. She describes the social isolation she faced within the physics department as the only woman. Farrar discusses her time as a postdoc at Caltech and details her research on the pion decay constant, as well as pioneering the field of phenomenological supersymmetry. Additionally, she speaks on the sexism she experienced while at Caltech. She details her experience at Rutgers University where she worked on Hadron Physics. Farrar discusses her time at New York University as Chair of the Department of Physics and her efforts putting together a strong faculty. She also details her growing interest in cosmology at this time and describes founding the Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics. She also speaks about her work on the stellar tidal disruption phenomenon. Lastly, Farrar notes her excitement for the increase in computation power in the future and reflects on the merging of different fields of physics.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Nan Phinney, retired Distinguished Staff Scientist at SLAC. Phinney recounts her childhood in Chicago and her education in Catholic private schools. She describes her undergraduate education at Michigan State where she majored in physics – despite being discouraged by many men that this was not an appropriate field of study for women. Phinney describes the excitement and benefits of focusing on particle physics during such a fundamental era of discovery and she explains her decision to pursue a Ph.D. in physics with Jack Smith at Stony Brook. She discusses her involvement in efforts to discover the Z boson, and she describes her work at CERN. Phinney describes her interest in linear colliders and the circumstances leading to her employment at SLAC. She discusses her initial work on the control system for the SLC and explains how networking issues presented the biggest technical challenge for the project. Phinney describes the international culture of collaboration with projects at CERN and DESY, and she explains the impact of the B factory at SLAC. She discusses her role in the creation of the NLC and the mechanical breakdown leading to the end of the SLC. Phinney describes the origins of the ILC and some of the significant developments in superconductivity in the early 2000s. At the end of the interview, Phinney describes current research on electron-positron colliders, she discusses her work with the APS, and she explains how SLAC has changed both culturally and scientifically over the decades.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Phiala Shanahan, assistant professor of physics in the Center for Theoretical Physics at MIT. Shanahan explains the administrative relationship between the department and the Center, and she recounts her childhood in Adelaide, Australia, her experiences at an all-girls school and the benefits this conferred in nurturing her interest in science. She discusses her concentration in computational physics and the mass of the H-dibaryon at the University of Adelaide and her decision to stay on with her undergraduate advisors, Anthony Thomas and Ross Young, for graduate school. Shanahan describes her interest in the proton radius puzzle as a research entry point for her thesis work and why she was interested in how particle physics can be connected more rigorously to quarks, gluons, and ultimately chemistry. She describes the opportunities leading to her postdoctoral research at MIT and some of the cultural adjustments she had to make coming from Australia. Shanahan discusses her collaboration with Will Detmold and she describes her contributions to the NPL-QCD research project and she discusses her first faculty appointment at William & Mary before returning to MIT where she remains in her current appointment and where she is pursuing work on proton structures and in creating ever-faster algorithms. She describes the potential benefits that would be conferred with the availability of true quantum computing for her field, and she describes some of the difficulties she has faced as a woman in getting recognized for her accomplishments in her field of research. At the end of the interview, she emphasizes why her long-term goal is to bridge nuclear physics and chemistry, and why she wants to keep an open mind about pursuing other areas that are both interesting and offer the opportunity to push forward discovery in foundational ways.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Margaret Murnane, professor of physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, fellow at JILA, and director of the NSF STROBE Science and Technology Center. Murnane recounts her childhood in Ireland and emphasizes that, culturally, she was encouraged to pursue her interests in science from a young age. She discusses her undergraduate education at University College Cork where she focused on physics and developed her specialties in experimentation with light. Murnane describes the opportunities leading to her graduate work at UC Berkeley, where, for her thesis research, she developed a high-power femtosecond laser to create X-ray emitting plasma. She describes her first faculty appointment at Washington State University in Pullman where she continued work in ultrafast laser science, and she explains the decision to transfer to the University of Michigan at the Center for Ultrafast Optics. Murnane discusses her subsequent decision to join the faculty at JILA, where the instrumentation and opportunities for collaboration in her field were peerless. She describes the centrality of achieving very fast X-ray pulses to her field, and she describes some recent advances in applications such as EUV lithography. Murnane discusses the work that remains to be done to ensure that STEM promotes diversity and inclusivity, and she reflects on the many excellent graduate students she has mentored. At the end of the interview, Murnane conveys her excitement at the possibilities offered in the future of ultrafast lasers, including the ability of real-time microscopes that can make three-dimensional nanoscale and A-scale movies.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Ruth Van de Water, Scientist I at Fermilab. She explains the hierarchical system at the lab to explain her title and she recounts her childhood in Northern Virginia. Van de Water describes her undergraduate experience at William & Mary where she developed an interest in physics and was mentored by David Armstrong, and she describes the considerations that led to her admission to the graduate program at the University of Washington. She discusses her early involvement in the Atlas program and her thesis research that focused on computational and numerical physics and lattice QCD. Van de Water discusses her postdoctoral work at Fermilab, and she describes the state of play regarding the Tevatron and the D0 and CDF collaborations. She describes her ongoing work in lattice QCD research and the opportunity that led to her second postdoctoral position at Brookhaven, where she pursued a new approach to discretizing quarks. Van de Water describes Fermilab “poaching” her back to work on quark flavor physics and become involved in the G-2 experiment. She discusses the negative impact on a decreased budget, and her current leave from Fermilab to be a visiting professor at North Central College, and she shares that she is conflicted about continuing on a strictly research path and focusing more directly on teaching. At the end of the interview, Van de Water discusses the impact of #ShutdownSTEM and the issue of inclusivity in physics and why solutions to under-representation are not easily achievable. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Marcelle Soares-Santos, assistant professor of physics at the University of Michigan. Soares-Santos recounts her childhood in Brazil, her early interests in science, and her graduate work in physics at the University of São Paulo. She describes her graduate visit to Fermilab to study galaxy clusters as a way to map the history of the expanding universe, which formed the basis of her thesis research. Soares-Santos discusses her return to Fermilab as a postdoctoral researcher, where she joined the Dark Energy Survey, and she explains how DES is getting us closer to understanding what dark energy is. She describes Fermilab’s broad-scale transition into astrophysics, and she explains the opportunities that led to her faculty appointment first at Brandeis before moving to Michigan. Soares-Santos discusses her current work in gravitational waves, and she prognosticates on what the discovery of dark energy (or energies) will look like. She shares her perspective on recent efforts to improve diversity and inclusivity in STEM. At the end of the interview, Soares-Santos explains why observation is leading theory in the current work of astrophysics and cosmology and why she is optimistic for fundamental advances in the field.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Lene Hau, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard. Hau recounts her childhood in Denmark and her early interests in science, and she describes her education at the University of Aarhus. She describes her studies in math and physics and her determination to build something meaningful for experimentation. Hau describes her interest in using lasers to cool down atoms during her postdoctoral work at Harvard and at the Rowland Institute, and she describes the opportunities that led to her full-time work at Rowland. She describes her collaboration with Jene Golovchenko and the impact of the discovery of Bose-Einstein condensation in 1995. Hau details the experiments that initially slowed down and then ultimately stop light in a Bose-Einstein condensate. She explains her decision to join the Harvard faculty and she surveys some of the practical applications of her research. Hau describes her research in nanoscale systems and her interest in applying her research to create more energy efficient systems with the explicit goal of addressing climate change. She describes some of the difficulties and systemic biases that women have to deal with in the sciences, particularly when they achieve prominence. At the end of the interview, Hau explains her interest to promote diversity in physics and particularly to encourage students who are the first in their generation to go to college.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Sarah Demers, Horace D. Taft Associate Professor of Physics at Yale University. Demers explains her academic lineage connection to Taft, and she surveys the challenges of remote work in the pandemic. She recounts her Vermont childhood growing up in the church as the daughter of a United Methodist minister and how her family discussed the compatibility of science and religion. Demers discusses her undergraduate experience at Harvard and her early struggles with physics. She describes her relationship with Melissa Franklin and her first experiences with the CDF detector project at Fermilab. Demers explains her decision to go to the University of Rochester for graduate school where she studied under the direction of Kevin McFarland, and she describes plotting the Z boson at Fermilab. She describes her first job teaching at Roberts Wesleyan College and her subsequent appointment as part of SLAC’s team for ATLAS at CERN, where she developed an infinity for the triggers of experiments. Demers explains the opportunities that led to her faculty appointment at Yale, and she describes the interests that led to her book on physics and dance. She discusses her ongoing collaboration with ATLAS, the tenure process at Yale, and her work on Mu2e. Demers describes the “aesthetic hints” that may prove to be physics beyond the Standard Model, and she explains why the LHC can play a pivotal role in the search for dark matter. At the end of the interview, Demers discusses her current interest in tau leptons, she describes the issue of bias as a blockage to improving diversity in the field, and she reflects on the technological improvements that have propelled her field forward. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Melissa Franklin, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics at Harvard. Franklin notes her affiliation with the ATLAS experiment, and she discusses the importance of remote data analysis from CERN which is possible in the current mandates of remote work. Franklin recounts her childhood in Edmonton, then Vancouver, and then Toronto, and she discusses the alternative educational experiences she pursued through high school. She describes her undergraduate experience at the University of Toronto and her decision to study physics and the summers she spent at Fermilab making a tagged photon beam. Franklin discusses her graduate work at Stanford, where she was motivated to work at SLAC with Martin Perl and then Gary Feldman. She describes her postdoctoral appointment at Berkeley working on an experiment at Fermilab, and her decision to join the faculty at the University of Illinois before accepting an offer to become a junior fellow and then an assistant professor at Harvard. Franklin describes her work on the CDF at Fermilab and measuring the mass of the W and the Z, and she surveys her style as a mentor to graduate students. She explains how she became involved with ATLAS and her interest in fundamental questions like the possible coupling of the Higgs to dark matter. Franklin describes her efforts to make the Harvard physics department a more caring place for postdocs, graduate students and support staff, and why she believes physics education research needs to be more rigorously incorporated at the department level. At the end of the interview, Franklin reflects on the significance of the discovery of the top quark, and she conveys her ambition to build a very small accelerator with a very high energy.