Female Researchers in the Spotlights for Physics Ladies Day
Tomorrow, LION organizes its annual Physics Ladies Day for female high school students. To mark this festive day, we put the spotlights on three female researchers, who talk about their experiences in physics.
Dr. Alessandra Silvestri, Assistant Professor
‘I have been fascinated with physics since I first started to study it in middle school.
What attracted me most was the possibility of framing the laws of nature in a rigorous way and then tackle real problems. I really enjoyed the problem solving challenge!
‘My favorite subject was theoretical physics, in particular field theory and particle theory. It kind of came to me naturally to continue my studies in physics and that eventually turned into a career. Soon after finishing my MSc in Theoretical Physics, I moved to the US to pursue my PhD, at Syracuse University, and then a long postdoc at MIT (Boston). The international experience has been of paramount importance for me. It widened my scientific horizons and helped me grow into a well-rounded individual.
‘I am a theoretical cosmologist, so I study the Universe, how it started and evolved into the structure that we observe around us. The evolution of the Universe spans an impressively wide range of energies and scales, so it really offers us an invaluable window into gravity and fundamental physics.’
Gesa Welker, PhD student
‘A problem seems to be unsolvable, but with a little trick you can suddenly solve it after all. Besides a deep fascination for nature, these moments brought me to go study physics. I found it a challenging study, but precisely that is what makes it so much fun. I learned about the mechanisms behind nature, for example why the sky is blue or how the Sun produces light through nuclear fusion. And I still find it astonishing that we can exactly describe those phenomena with mathematical formulas.
‘Science is very internationally oriented. I did my studies in Germany (I’m German myself), after which I got the opportunity to study in the US for a year. One and a half year ago I moved to The Netherlands to start my PhD research in Leiden. I work together with people from many different countries in my lab. It is kind of crazy that my love for natural sciences has brought me in touch with different cultures and languages. Two years ago, I would have never guessed that I’d ever learn Dutch, and now I speak it every day. Fortunately, the laws of quantum mechanics are the same in every language, because that is what my research is about. According to those laws, it is for instance possible that an object at the same time moves and doesn’t move. I try to get a tiny mirror in that state. That isn’t easy, but I believe I will succeed eventually.’
Vera Meester, PhD student
‘I think natural sciences are one of the coolest things there are. With the knowledge you obtain during your physics studies you learn how the world works and how you become a discoverer yourself. I developed a great enthusiasm for physics research during my Bachelor’s. I work with particles so tiny that they are invisible to the naked eye. Particles that automatically create large structures. It is like watching Lego bricks that build a house or car themselves! Currently I am doing a PhD research in this field. I need to program nanoparticles in just the right way, and analyze the structures they produce.
‘With a physics degree you can work in many different places besides the academic world. For example, you could work with devices like an MRI scanner in a hospital. Or work at a company as technician or manager to make sure the organization runs smoothly. Or would you rather help building energy efficient cars that also run fast? The choice is yours!’