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Margaret Wegener From Australia

Ring of Sterling Silver With Laser-cut Amethyst

Part of my story in physics is represented by this ring that I made. I began silversmithing as I was finishing off my PhD in laser physics. When I saw this unusual gemstone — a laser-cut amethyst — it called to me to make a piece of jewelry for myself.

I’ve discovered that understanding of physics really empowers my jewelry design and making process. The properties of materials, application of forces and torques, heat transfer, and optics are all important. Also significant is the problem-solving approach that physics training instills. With this ring, I wanted to minimize metal surrounds distracting from the stone. This meant that traditional gem-setting wasn’t suitable. I used my physics knowledge to work out what was possible, to create an original and successful design for the gem setting and ring band. Art and science come together here.

I get pleasure from knowing, as I look at this piece, that the variation in color from one end of the stone to the other is due to variation in dopants in the crystal. As a woman in physics, the stone’s purple color, with its links to the suffragette and feminist movements, seems
appropriate.

Projects such as this have led to interesting collaborations, for example, with engineers researching laser welding of titanium for jewelry. In another direction, I’m collaborating with an artist to create jewelry and small sculptural objects from lab junk and other physics artefacts (like graphical representations of theoretical models, experimental results and astronomical images). This ‘Labpunk’ work is being exhibited at this year’s Australian Institute of Physics
conference, which is themed ‘The Art of Physics’. It will later be displayed in a museum/gallery setting for the general public, fulfilling a science outreach and communication role, and so addressing my professional responsibilities and interests in physics education.

Jane Cynthia Arifin From Indonesia

After I graduated from my Masters studies last year, I felt dejected. First, I found the unwritten rule of academia — publish or perish — intimidating. Don’t get me wrong, I do love research and teaching — a life without them looked so dull and bleak; but I found publishing and networking to be chores. Second, my masters thesis was not that
successful. Although my supervisor said that my work was okay (well, except for my English) and that I should pursue a PhD, I still felt that I was not competent enough. Feeling uncertain, I returned to my home country and took a long break. During the break, I got involved in some projects which required me to mentor high school students and teachers in doing research. Research in Indonesia was not popular;
and most people did not know how to formally do research. Therefore, my experience of researching in my masters study was valuable.

Watching the students researching allowed me to think clearly, bit by bit, about the importance of publishing and networking in academia. It reminded me of the advice my supervisor gave me when I graduated: “even the most exceptional research of the most brilliant person becomes useless if he cannot communicate his research”. Taking the first step, I learned to communicate properly — mainly in academic English. I came to find how interesting it was to write and to express my thoughts. However, I still had not overcome my feeling of incompetence due to mistakes I made during my studies. Then, while I was learning English, I came across an article in the internet about Einstein’s thesis. His thesis was full of grammar mistakes, yet we all know already that it didn’t stop him from becoming an exceptional physicist.

So, what am I afraid of? I have made mistakes, but it doesn’t mean that the world ends there. Admittedly, this thinking maybe naive and oversimplified, but I feel positive about the future, and this is what I need. Now I am more than determined to pursue a PhD, postdocs, and eventually to create my own research group in my home country.

Although I have been rejected tens of times, I am going to keep applying for PhD or research assistant positions. In the meantime, I am paving the way for my goal by staying involved with the academic community and nurturing young “researchers” around me. To conclude, sometimes it is okay to take a breath, a deep one if necessary: it might allow you to regain your lost sight, and push you further toward what you aspire. I might not have been successful, but my life as physicist has been rewarding, and I am positive it will continue.

Chiamaka From Nigeria

Unlike most skilled careers, physics is not considered to be prestigious, and thus not lucrative in Nigeria. One must be driven solely by an interest to pursue physics beyond high school level. Personally, I was motivated by my excellent grades in physics in high school. Our physics text was written by a famous Nigerian physicist, P. N. Okeke. My colleagues would call me by his name and, in a bid to be like him after high school, I opted to study physics. I was further stimulated by failed attempts to secure an admission to study medicine and surgery.

One cannot avoid challenges in studying physics at any level. However, collaborations seem to make these challenges surmountable. It is so exciting to be a part of a group of people who try to understand why stuff and things work the way they do. In fact, this century has been a great and rewarding one for members of the physics team. One of my sources of strength comes from that expression on a stranger’s face when he or /she finds out that you are studying physics. I draw inner strength from such experiences which spur me to carry on. On the other hand, great physicists also spur motivate me. My favourite famous quote by a Physicist is Albert Einstein’s:

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.”

Before a breakthrough in research, there could be lots of failures. Holding on in times of failure is crucial and can be depressing. Thomas Edison’s famous quote, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”, motivates me further. In spite of the failures, challenges, joys and breakthroughs, my physics journey to this point has been a great one.

Brian Fulton from England

Eclipsed by a Daughter

I have had a long, enjoyable and rewarding academic career in physics, having been privileged to work with tremendous colleagues, to work with the leading international groups in my field, and to have lead a Physics Department for five years. But my most rewarding experience came not from a particular career high point, but from a wonderful moment of enlightenment during a discussion on cosmology with my daughter. She was then in the final year of her own physics degree and enjoying the advanced courses. During the discussion, as she challenged some of my statements, it slowly dawned on me that my own daughter knew more about this topic than her father, Professor of Physics and Head of a Physics department. It was both a humbling and touching moment, but also one of great pride in seeing another young person gain the maturity and confidence that an education in Physics can bring.

Professor Brian Fulton
University of York, England
brian.fulton@york.ac.uk

Feng Yaqing from China

The story I want to share with you started from the first day I entered the lab. I was astonished by the equipment because they were so huge and they reminded me of the giant robots that appeared in sci-fi movies. My seniors comforted me that handling these equipment would just be a matter of time and it was much easier than I thought it would be. I admit these words really encouraged me and I devoted most of my time and energy to learning it. I read the instructions of the equipment in the lab and learned carefully from my seniors. However, operating those “giants” turned out to be not only tough but also tricky. Take the equipment of laser-MBE as an example. In our researching group, we obtained the high-quality thin films by using the laser-MBE which is the abbreviation of laser molecular beam epitexy. After 3 months of learning, I began growing thin films on my own. I was pretty sure I followed the exact steps my seniors told me but I failed for many unexpected reasons. I used the word “unexpected” because every part of the “giant” would crush down and I had to call my seniors for help. In most cases, the “giant” would return back to normal immediately when they came. Similar situations happened and I was almost beat. I spent 2 months on the laser-MBE and various problems appeared every day. Seniors gave me a “lovely” name, “YiQiShaShou”, which means equipment killer, for everything in the lab would stop working when I used them. I felt confused and innocent since I was never a naughty girl and I always followed the right steps. During that time, I turned to many people for help and I really wanted to know the reasons. Most of them gave me the same answer: equipment are like little shy girls, they need time to know you as well. You need to be patient and tender. In the beginning, I thought they were just kidding since those “giants” are made of cold steel, how come they have feelings like human being. I didn’t accept this concept that equipment have feelings, but I decided to have more patience when problems occurred and regarded it as a process of gaining experiences. “Miracles” happened when a more patient me cooperated with those “giants”. Fewer problems appeared and they behaved normally as if I were one of my seniors. By the end of that term, the engineer of the laser-MBE came for software update. I told him my experience and his answer was more interesting, “you should treat it as your baby, he needs to be taken good care of”.

To be honest, I still couldn’t understand why time is necessary for an equipment to adapt to a “stranger” and “behaves normally” in front of him. But in this process I became more patient, calm and organized in order to be in a good relationship with those “giants”. Their good performance adds a sense of achievement and pleasure to my life in the lab. Now I am responsible for the maintenance of two equipment, namely the Laser-MBE and PPMS, which are two key “giants” in our lab. Problems happen occasionally but solving them make me feel like I were a super girl. I begin enjoying my life in the lab where I can design thin films with promising properties and build a special relationship with those “emotional giants”. Now I would advise my juniors the same attitude towards equipment, “be nice and patient, and treat them as your shy sisters”.

Shabanar Nisar from Pakistan

The reason I decided to study physics is quite unusual. I choose to study physics not because I had read about the big bang, or I got fascinated by the dark energy or dark matter, or found that Einstein’s mass-energy equation was too beautiful to resist. It was because I was socially outcast and the only way to pass my time was to think about the workings of the nature. I took Physics and Maths in High school because I was tired of listening to my parents and people around me saying that girls can’t do physics and math.

“The natural subject for them to study is biology; math and Physics is the domain of boys where girls should never dare to enter”, I was constantly reminded by my father (who was a very loving and caring person otherwise) . As a result, both of my sisters studied biology and my brothers became engineers.

I grew up in a household where gender roles were quite well-defined and since childhood I was repeatedly told that you are not allowed to do this, this and this because you are not a boy, or you have to behave in a certain way because you are a girl. So choices were pretty limited and options were few for me. This inequality issue was quite disturbing to me and it always irritated me since I was 6-7 year old. So as a protest, in my middle school , I studied Persian instead of home economics in which they usually taught how to boil an egg or make rice. Whenever I heard that girls can’t do math and physics, the desire ripened inside me to prove this stereotype wrong. When I finally took ‘forbidden’ subjects in my high school, I remember that everyone was angry and upset on learning of my choices.

Fortunately, I was given the luxury to study the subjects of my choice, after lengthy debates. It was during my bachelors years when I learned that physics wasn’t an “ego” issue only, but also a very interesting subject which explains the things at the most fundamental level. It’s the same thing which explains rainbows, the formation of day and night, our ability to stay grounded and also more fancy things like black holes, dark matter and time travel. After my masters exams, I took the GRE and TOEFL exams and applied to different American universities. Only my elder siblings knew that I was applying for a PhD., my parents didn’t have any clue. I got very reasonable offers from many universities and the time had come to tell my parents as well.

They were very upset, especially my mom. All hell broke loose. I was reminded again and again that marriage is the destination of a girl, PhD is not. At the end, with the help of my brother, my father got convinced and I was allowed to follow my dream. That was back in 2002. , In those days going abroad for higher studies was more like a dream, but now things have improved a lot in this respect and a lot of girls are living their dreams.

Nilam Shrestha Pradhan From Nepal

I was born in 1964 in Kathmandu, Nepal which is one of the poorest countries in the world. It has a per capital income of roughly $300. About 80 per cent of the population relies on agriculture for a living and over half of the people survive on less than $1 a day.

I belong to a middle-class family with two brothers and two sisters. The reason we all are well educated was due to the efforts of my mother, Basundhara Devi Shrestha. Very few girls from her generation were sent to schools, because Nepal was then under the rule of the Rana families. The women from her generation were even hesitant to walk freely on the streets outside. They were expected to stay at home and perform household and domestic work. As a result, they had to depend on their male counterparts for income and for making decisions.

My mother had always wanted to study, but she was unable to do so because of the social perception. Therefore, she tried very hard to make education possible for me and my sisters. By providing us a favorable environment and education, she has successfully made us independent. She always encouraged us to study hard, pursue our dreams and become successful women. My mother died in 1987, and with her the stable, supportive and favorable environment vanished. My sisters and I then had to struggle hard to continue our education. But, we were determined as we were after all, fulfilling our mother�s dreams along with ours.

I was actually a bright student already at school, and won many awards. I completed my B.Sc. in Physics in 1986 with first division. There were only 5 women (including me) out of more than 300 students. I completed my M.Sc. in Physics two years later in 1988 with first division, and then started teaching in Tri-Chandra College. Out of 21 graduating students, only three, including me, were women. I got married in 1992 into a large and conservative family.

Being the eldest daughter-in-law, I had a huge family burden and many social obligations. My husband, Lokendra Pradhan, had three younger brothers who were all studying at that time, and the youngest was still in school. I conceived shortly and delivered my first son a year after my marriage. I took care of him in the morning while my husband took over during the day? an arrangement which we followed until he was about two years of age. Afterwards, I left him in day care every morning before we went to do our jobs. About three years later, I had my second son. We shared our parental duties similarly.

Meanwhile, I took a second job in St. Mary�s School where I taught Physics to high school students. Managing two full time jobs along with the domestic duties was a hectic experience, and I used to fall sick often. A few years later when my husband�s income had stabilized, I resigned from St. Mary�s School. I started teaching Physics in various other private colleges, as a part time lecturer. It was not until 2007; after eighteen years of teaching that I was able to take a leave from Tri-Chandra College and begin studying for the Ph.D. degree.

I had obtained very good opportunities to continue further studies abroad many times after my M.Sc. But, I declined all of them because my heart belonged to my children and family. Besides, things got really complicated after I got married and had children. Those of you who haven�t had children yet, will not believe how much your priorities change after you have them. You will always find yourself subconsciously tipping the balance in favor of your little ones. I wanted to progress further in my academic field, but I also wanted to give my children the best childhood I could give. Therefore, even though I didn�t want to, I waited 18 years before I pursued the Ph. D. degree. In a way, I�m happy with my decision as my sons have grown up to become talented persons.

Across cultures, we have the primary responsibility of taking care of our home and children. Social factors, most importantly our responsibilities towards our children have a major impact on our careers in Science. I am lucky in a way as I had a loving, understanding and supportive husband. And through his continuous support, I have maintained the balance between my career and my family responsibilities.

As of now, after publication of numerous research papers (including one in a prestigious journal J. Phys. B: At. Mol. Opt. Phys.: 47(10), p105002(2014), IOP Publishing) and their presentations in several countries, my Ph. D. is almost completed.

Now, I am very happy working as an Associate Professor in Tribhuvan University, raising two maturing boys, and moving through highs and lows of life with my husband and family. In the end, I am thankful to several people who have played a pivotal role in my life, including my siblings Udaya Shrestha and Meenu Hada; and Professor Dr. Ramesh babu Thayyullathil who has helped me a lot in my journey to Ph.D. Without their help, my journey would have been much more difficult.

Ode to My Lovely Physicist (A Poem By Sandra Fee From Ireland)

Sammy, you are my quantum, my photon of light and love.
When my threshold frequency is reached, I fly like a dove.
You raise me up to higher energy levels and free me
Your light becomes my kinetic energy.

My mass and your energy are one, it’s pure delight!
I am your loving charged body through the night.
You are my electric and magnetic field.
My Knight in Armour, holding a Golden shield.

You make my time dilate,
And cause my heart to vibrate.
Please resonate at my frequency
And keep me from delinquency.

I will stay out of mischief if you keep my heart content
Sometimes I fail, but don’t earth me on the pavement
I am a human article,
not a subatomic particle!

Sakina Fakhraddin From Yemen

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

“Only a life lived for others is a life worth while.”

– Albert Einstein –

I preferred to start “My Story with Physics” with the aforementioned powerful quotations of the famous physicist Albert Einstein to point out that three unchanging principles overwhelmed my life with physics. First, scientific learning, development and discovery have no end point. Second, science and religion are, as I believe and apply in my life, two faces to the same coin and not two opposite extremes as some think. Third, whatever researches conducted or discoveries reached they should not target or serve personal interests on the level of individuals or communities, but should be for the benefit of all humanity discarding any type of discrimination.

My story with physics could be rather short, but I would like to share it with you and with the whole world if I have the chance to. It could be your story as it partially mirrors a tale of a country, not only of a person.

Yemen, my homeland, is considered one of the countries in the Arab world that lately joined the establishment of institutionalized educational system. Adequate schools were available in the southern part of Yemen, leaving the northern part in utter darkness and ignorance. In 1962 some schools opened their gates for girls, and this was the beginning of education for girls in this part of Yemen. Currently, and after decades of strife and relentless work, women in Yemen can and do really contribute to the progress and welfare not only of their native soil or Arab world, but rather of humankind through science and technology. This represents a great development for women, especially if we compare the status of women in the early 1960s, when almost no females were allowed to go to school. Since that time more and more women were able to acquire education, as more schools for girls were opened.

Ten years later two universities, Sana’a and Aden, were established. However, this late founding of schools and universities had its impact on the group of women, who can be considered to be the first generation of women to acquire a high degree of education. In this short description, I introduce my story of success, determination and dedication to achieve the highest degree in a discipline previously thought to be only a specialization for men.

  • In the 60s almost no females were allowed to go to schools. By the time I reached High School, in 1979, few females were attending the 12th year board exams. In fact, I was supposed to enter this exam in 1977, but this delay was due to my family’s moving from the southern (Socialist regime) to the northern (Republican regime) part of Yemen. There were a lot of political issues involved in all aspects of everyday’s life. A friend of mine (we both were born in the same year), who stayed in the south, graduated from school in 1976.
  • After school my ambition was to join a Faculty of Engineering, however in those days, Sana’a University (SU) did not have such faculty. So, I had to travel abroad to fulfill my desire to study civil engineering. I travelled to the UK and spent a year there, but could not find my way to the Faculty of Engineering. Hence, I got admission to Baghdad University, but again the circumstances were against my wishes. The Iraqi-Iranian war broke out the night I was travelling to Iraq. So, I had to abandon the idea of travelling and with it I had to give up my dream to study civil engineering. I ended up in the Physics Department at SU, this is how my career in Physics began. At this stage, I lost two years in searching for a suitable university.
  • I graduated from SU with distinction; I obtained the 1st rank over my faculty colleagues.

Consequently, I was appointed as instructor in the Faculty of Science. Immediately, I received a Fulbright scholarship from the US government for my Masters.

  • I obtained my MSc in Physics in 1989 from Michigan State University. I came back to Yemen looking for a fellowship to proceed with my PhD. Unfortunately, Baghdad’s invasion of Kuwait took place. Due to the political situation, all of the US assistance, including scholarships, was stopped, so, I had to look for other sources to pursue my PhD. In 1992, a physics professor in Yemen was willing to take me as PhD student. I started my PhD work in my own country. This was great, no travelling, no homesickness, and I was near my family. But a computer was urgently needed to accomplish my work, and none was available at that time in the whole faculty. My father bought me one, and I started my PhD work. I was very lucky to have such a wonderful family, that supported me by all means. Again, things did not work well, my supervisor had serious health problems and he had to leave Yemen. Once again I was looking for any way to complete my PhD. Later, I got a fellowship to pursue my PhD in Cairo, Egypt.
  • I flew to Cairo late in 1995 and finished my PhD degree in 2000. Returning back home, I was appointed as assistant professor in the Physics Department at SU in 2001. Up to 2000, the main teaching staff in the Physics Department was only males. The first female group to enter the academic field as members of the teaching staff was in 2001. I was one of the two females with such a degree in Yemen as a whole. This was a courageous step for me to be in a field mainly occupied by males. Therefore, this was a challenge for me to step up with the males and to compete with them in all terms of the academia. I succeeded in this challenge.
  • My PhD dissertation was examined by two pioneer professors in high energy physics. Both expressed very high estimation and evaluative recommendations for my work. From 2001 till 2008 I worked as Assistant Professor. In our universities we face many difficulties, where the resources available for research are very poor. I was able to overcome these difficulties with determination and my strong belief in scientific research, and could improve the status of women in my country. I tried to establish a scientific collaboration with other groups working in the same field. Thanks to almighty God I succeeded in this collaboration with Cairo University in Egypt and with Shanxi University in China. As a result of my hard and dedicated work in research, I have conducted a lot of research, some of which was presented at international conferences, while others were published in distinguished journals. Consequently, in 2009 I was promoted to Associate Professor.
  • One of the most unprecedented successes that crowned my determination and hard work was that I won the “President’s Award for Scientific Research for the year 2009”. In 2010, I received the “TWOWS Award for Young Women Scientists in Physics/Mathematics for the Arab Region”.

My career accomplishments and the rewards I obtained mirror the achievements and the increasing prominence of Yemeni women in science in general, and in physics in particular. I feel incredibly privileged to have heard so many young women at undergraduate and graduate levels, not only from physics department but also from other departments, saying that these achievements have inspired and enriched their lives. These young women are now motivated to develop their status in physics and other disciplines to present an exceptional excellence, and they have become more confident in themselves than ever before. In fact, these advancements and achievements of a Yemeni woman in physics, represent an inspiring female model to motivate the younger generation.

This is a brief memoir on how I have suffered, first at school level, and then during my academic journey. It is evident from all that I have mentioned that at each stage I encountered difficulties and obstacles, sometimes as a result of political positions, and sometimes as a result of lack of academic resources. I also tried to show how these obstacles were overcome with the help and guidance of Allah Almighty, with my determination and deep concern and eagerness to achieve the highest degree in a discipline that was previously only open to males.