Women in physics take the podium

By Christine Buckley

A new lecture series presented by the physics department in CLAS this spring features prominent women in the field, with lectures on topics ranging

from using lasers to manipulate the insides of cells to quantum information processing.

Physics is not a discipline that has traditionally attracted women, says Susanne Yelin, associate professor of physics. Despite more women entering the field in recent years, they are still a minority.

Because of the historical dearth of women physicists, she says, today’s students can have a hard time finding female role models.

“We can’t overstate the importance of positive role models, ” says Yelin. “This series will help us underline the quality of role models that exist in the field. ”

Yelin is part of a newly-formed Diversity Committee in her department, which is working on a host of initiatives to encourage broad participation in the physical sciences. Each visiting lecturer will meet with undergraduates for an informal lunch, in which students can inquire about the researcher’s work and experience in a casual environment.

“This series is a small part of a larger effort to recognize and increase diversity, ” says Yelin.

The series will include two Norman Hascoe Frontiers of Science lectures, which aim to excite undergraduates with scientific interests in frontier areas of science. Since its inception in 1997, the series has sponsored speakers in the areas of chemistry, physics, materials science and the biological sciences.

Birgitta Whaley of the University of California at Berkeley will present one of the Hascoe lectures on her work investigating photosynthesis from the perspective of quantum computing. Both processes have similar properties at their core, suggesting that they are efficient for the same reasons.

The series will conclude with the Mara Prentiss of Harvard University presenting the Sigma Pi Sigma Lecture, sponsored by the Society of Physics Students. Prentiss’s work uses lasers to manipulate matter inside of cells, using what she calls “optical tweezers”.

All lectures will take place at 4 pm in Room P-38, Physics Building.

Click here to visit the Women in Physics page.

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