Conference To Focus on Women’s Contributions to the Field of Physics

The names of some Nobel Prize-winning physicists are well known, even outside the scientific community — such as Einstein, whose name has became synonymous with genius; Heisenberg, who had a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics named after him; or Fermi, who was honored with a national laboratory that bears his moniker.

Despite her profound contributions to the world of physics, however, most people are unlikely to know the name Lise Meitner.

A weekend of events hosted by Yale is set to change all that by turning the spotlight on women in physics — from their historical role in the scientific endeavor, to the issues faced by today’s generation.

The Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at Yale (CUWPY), a three-day conference for undergraduate physics majors in the northeastern United States, will take place Friday-Sunday, Jan. 16-18. It will include presentations on current research by faculty and students from across the region, laboratory tours, and panel discussions on graduate school and careers in physics.

“As a minority of physics students on most college campuses, female students can feel out of place,” says Lauren Rosenblum, a Yale physics major in her senior year and a member of the conference’s organizing committee.

Although Rosenblum says her own experience as a woman in physics has been a positive one, she jumped at the chance to attend a similar conference at the University of Southern California a few years ago. Building on her experience there, she helped put together a proposal to hold a similar event at Yale. “Knowing how much the presence of other women, both students and professors, has affected my experience as an undergraduate, I hope a conference full of female participants and speakers will encourage other women in physics,” she says.

In addition to the conference, a special production of a play about Lise Meitner will be performed at the New Theater on Jan. 16 and 17. “Remembering Miss Meitner” tells the story of Meitner’s co-discovery of nuclear fusion in 1938 and the lack of recognition she received when the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded solely to her collaborator, Otto Hahn, in 1945.

Meg Urry, chair of the physics department at Yale, first found out about the play when a colleague saw it performed during a trip to Europe last year and inquired about hosting a production. Urry was happy to oblige.

“When we look back in history, we think, ‘Where are all the women scientists?’ But they’re there, even though they’ve been forgotten in some cases,” says Urry. “This play is a nice opportunity to recognize those women and celebrate their contributions.”

The play is being sponsored by the Department of Physics, Jonathan Edwards College, the Office of the Provost, the School of Engineering and the Women Faculty Forum, and is being performed by the original cast from the Göteborg Theatre in Sweden.

For more information about the conference, visit www.yale.edu/spsyale/cuwpy. The play “Remembering Miss Meitner” will be performed at the New Theater, 1156 Chapel St., Jan. 16 and 17 at 8 p.m. Performances are free and open to the public, but reservations must be made at catherine.barabas@yale.edu.

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