Women in Physics Conference: Inspiring the next generation

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Undergraduate female physics majors enjoy some liquid nitrogen ice cream at the Women in Physics Conference in 2012. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

Yale is poised to help launch a new generation of women physicists, with a weekend full of networking, mentorship, and discussion.

Yale will host one of eight conferences around the country for undergraduate women in physics Jan. 16-18. Sponsored by the American Physical Society, the conferences give undergraduate women the opportunity to experience a professional conference, while also networking with other women in physics.

“There are quite a few undergraduate women studying physics who have never had a female physics professor, and who find themselves as the only, or one of very few, women in their physics classes,” said Sarah Demers, who is faculty adviser for the conference. “These conferences can reduce their isolation, surrounding them with female physicist peers and role models. I hope that they leave Yale with an increased sense of their potential to contribute to the field of physics.”

Yale physics professors Meg Urry and Bonnie Fleming will be among the speakers at the event. Physics professor Helen Caines and Department of Physics chair Paul Tipton will moderate panels.

The Yale conference will include 179 undergraduates from 50 institutions, mainly from the Northeast. The weekend’s itinerary features research talks, panel discussions and presentations on careers and diversity in physics.

Yale President Peter Salovey will welcome the participants on Friday evening. A keynote speech by physicist Gabriela Gonzalez of Louisiana State University will be simulcast from the University of Mississippi to all regional conferences on Saturday afternoon.

There will be time for socializing, as well. Attendees will sample liquid nitrogen ice cream, tour campus, and visit the Leitner Observatory and Planetarium and the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design.

“As a senior female physics major, this conference has truly been an amazing end to my Yale career,” said Yale College senior Megan Phelan, co-president of Yale Women in Physics and one of the conference organizers.

Phelan said she’d always enjoyed math and wanted to pursue a quantitative aspect of mathematics in college. One of the highlights of her years at Yale, she explained, was conducting particle physics research with Demers at the CERN Large Hadron Collider, located near Geneva, Switzerland.

“Physics is fundamental in understanding our universe and is the basis of other science,” Phelan said. “The idea of using math in such an important and applied way fascinated me and drove me to study physics.”

Lucie Tvrznikova, a graduate student in physics who works on direct dark matter detection, also has been part of the organizing team for the APS event. “I see the conference as an opportunity to inspire young women and encourage them to change the stereotypes and continue studying such an exciting subject as physics is,” she said.

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