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A series of inspiring physicists throughout 2020

Posted By Administration, Monday 14 September 2020
Updated: Tuesday 15 September 2020
Author : Gina Gunaratnam

The European Physical Society aims at promoting physics, especially among a young audience. In 2020, the Society published a calendar called "Inspiring Physicists".

The idea of this calendar obviously came to me as a way to put forward the laureates of the EPS Emmy Noether Distinction and to provide examples of living and committed scientists. It shows the variety of research fields in physics and wishes to inspire the young generations in their choice of studies. The calendar also presents some famous female figures.

Furthermore, the EPS regularly publishes interviews of inspiring young female physicists. Lucia Di Ciaccio, former chair of the EPS Equal Opportunities Committee, launched the idea in 2015. These interviews can be read online.

Every month of this year, a new physicist can be discovered in the calendar. The first version puts forward ladies only, because they are often under-represented in various areas of physics (scientific school books, history books, conference speakers, scientific reference).

Our calendar was distributed to our members in Europe and worldwide. Due to the SARS-CoV-2 crisis, the development of the actions started in schools or conferences was suddenly reduced and the follow-up made less easy. However, very positive feedback already came from our members before lockdowns : distribution to physics teachers at conferences, use as educational medium to raise interest in sciences in classrooms or training schools and in an exhibition of famous women.

We hope that with the help of enthusiastic teachers and scientists, our calendar will inspire young pupils to study physics and to give them the taste of science in 2020 and beyond.


Left: the calendar cover with the names of the physicists presented inside - Right: the EPS Distinction for Women Physics is named after the mathematician Emmy Noether


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Tags:  EPS EOC  EPS Equal Opportunities Committee  women in science 

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EPS Young Minds: “Section Talk” during COVID-19 breakdown

Posted By Administration, Monday 14 September 2020
Updated: Tuesday 15 September 2020
Author: Anna Grigoryan, the president of EPS Artsakh Young Minds

The first step was organising the “Section Talk” Facebook live sessions, during which the representatives from different EPS YM sections talk about their contribution to the section, the advantages that they earned during their membership and their experience in doing various outreach and networking events and recruiting new members. The format of the online event is not only plain presentation, but also both the moderator of the event and the guest have an opportunity to make a discussion, via Q & A. Section’s subscribers and other YM members are free to ask various questions as well․

These kinds of events give an opportunity for various sections to contribute, to make an experience exchange. Not to mention that it is an interesting and modern way of networking.

The first “Section Talk” was organised on 25th of July with Ahmed Sheet, the president of the EPS Cairo Young Minds section. At the next events, we hosted Ana Milinović, the president of EPS Zagreb Young Minds and Natalia Kukk, the member of EPS Warsaw Young Minds.

The next purpose is to involve as many sections as possible and to encourage other sections to organise similar events, for straightening the connection between YM community members.

Sessions are available on EPS Artsakh Young Minds Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Artsakh-Young-Minds-363338941159217.

Contact: anna.grigoryan@cern.ch ; annag337708@gmail.com


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Interview with Maria Viñas: “Enjoy what you do. Research career is tough, but it is also worthy”

Posted By Administration, Monday 14 September 2020
Updated: Monday 14 September 2020
Author: Luc Bergé

Maria Viñas’s research focuses on the physics of vision and vision psychophysics, with Adaptive Optics based visual technologies to image the eye, and study visual function and neural adaptation in polychromatic conditions under a very wide range of artificially-simulated-conditions. Her work on Adaptive Optics visual simulation in polychromatic conditions has contributed to different areas of research in Visual Optics and Biophotonics, like the study of chromatic aberrations in phakic and pseudophakic eyes and their impact on vision, the optical, visual and neural effects of astigmatism, the experimental simulation of complex multifocal solutions for Presbyopia, and the pre-operative simulation of post-operative multifocal vision with those corrections. Maria Viñas completed undergraduate studies in Optics and Optical Engineering in the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM), followed by a predoctoral work at the Visual Optics & Biophotonics Lab, where she obtained her PhD in Physics in 2015. She is currently an IF-MSCA fellow with a joint position at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School (USA) and the Institute of Optics of the Spanish National Research Council (Spain). She is also founding member of the spin-off company, 2EyesVision, which develops clinical visual simulators.

Maria Viñas received several recognitions from scientific societies (OSA, ARVO). In particular, she was elected OSA Ambassador of The Optical Society (OSA) in 2019. She is past president of IOSA - Institute of Optics OSA Student Chapter - where among a wide range of activities she has authored a very successful book of optical experiments. She is currently the vice-chair of the Visual Sciences Committee of the Spanish Optical Society, and chair of the Women in Optics and Photonics committee of the Spanish Optical Society, where she fights gender stereotypes in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Luc Bergé, President-Elect of the EPS and chair of the EPS Equal Opportunity Committee (LB), interviewed Maria Viñas (MV).

LB: Why did you choose to study physics?

MV: I actually studied Optics and Optical engineering at the University Complutense of Madrid. However, I became more and more interested in the Optics/Physics behind the visual process and related technologies. That is why, when I finished my Master’s degree, I joined the Visual Optics and Biophotonics Lab of the Institute of Optics of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). The group, led by Prof. Susana Marcos, had a research line focused on the use of Adaptive Optics technologies, inherited from astronomy and only very recently focused on visual Optics, in order to study the optics of the eye and how the brain sees the world through it. I was fascinated by that topic. The same technology used to image the stars could be used to image the eye! Also, I did my PhD there, developing novel Adaptive Optics systems to study visual function and to improve optical corrections for visual problems, like Myopia or Presbyopia. And I am really happy to see that some of those technologies have jumped from the lab to the clinic, via a spin-off company, 2EyesVision, which I co-founded. Now, I am really excited to keep pursuing novel breakthroughs in the new phase of my career, starting now as an IF-MSCA fellow with a joint position at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School (USA) and the Institute of Optics of the Spanish National Research Council (Spain).

LB: Any worry to match your family life and a career in physics?

MV: Funny timing for that question, since I am now a postdoctoral researcher with a 5 months old baby, and that fact has a real impact on my work/life balance. I was not worried about this before; I did not even think much about it. I could see my female colleagues struggle, but I did not relate much. Now I am facing the real truth, I can say that this situation is hard, but doable.

We all know that research provides a very competitive environment, which requires carrying a high workload and a lot of travelling, among other things. Numbers of female scientists in STEM tell us that the struggle is higher for women. This happens even before we consider having a family; it is deeply related to gender stereotypes that affect us all. Also, the number of female scientists in STEM areas is lower, because of the work/life balance, which is typically harder to maintain for women. However, I am optimistic about the future. Things are changing. Research/Academic institutions are making an effort to attract female talents to STEM and to maintain it by offering more flexibility, looking for strategies that enable more diverse research teams or fighting stereotypes. There is still much to be done, but I really think if you want to pursue a career in STEM, this issue must not discourage you. It is so much fun to work in the lab (as Prof. Donna Strickland said in her Nobel Prize presentation) than the rest can be overcome.

LB: Are you worried about finding a job in physics?

MV: I think when you are at a postdoctoral stage you certainly worry about this. There are many options to explore, and you can join truly amazing groups and develop very interesting projects. However, getting a permanent position, in such a way that you can develop your own independent projects and lead your research group is not so easy. I think this is a common worry for many researches at this time: you love your work, which is quite exciting, but your career is not as stable as you’d like. In my case I have been very lucky so far, I cannot complain.

LB:  What has been the personally most rewarding experience and also the biggest difficulty encountered so far in your career?

MV: For me the biggest difficulty was the beginning. After graduating, I started working in Industry, nothing related to research. However, I desired something else. I knew I had found my path when I started my PhD. I really like what I do. My most rewarding experiences have to do with teaching, not only my students in the lab, but also students in the University or children in outreach activities. How their curiosity awakes, how they grow scientifically, is very rewarding.

LB:  Did you encounter any difficulty in finding funding for PhD or a post-doc position related to the fact that you are a woman?

MV: I was unaware of gender bias during my pre-doctoral years; I was happy because I could focus on Science, only lab stuff mattered. However, becoming a postdoctoral researcher changed my perception of things. Scientific structures are more willing to incorporate male scientists than female ones. Scientific networking is male dominated, how positions are achieved, how connections are made…When you are the female scientist in the room is always more difficult to make your voice heard, no matter your experience, no matter your seniority, this can undermine your confidence as a scientist. But I think that things are changing; research groups are more and more diverse, which helps fighting gender discrimination.

LB:  Any suggestion to guarantee a balanced gender representation in physics?

MV: For me the important thing here is to fight against gender stereotypes, which are at the very centre of the problem. This is not only a question of getting a balanced gender representation in physics, it is also a problem that affects society as a whole, and which we should be fighting together. Reducing unconscious bias is the real deal.

LB:   Any particular advice for a young aspiring researcher?

MV: Enjoy what you do. Research career is tough, but it is also worthy.

LB:  Do you have any female ‘physicist cult figure’ or ‘role model’?

MV: Yes, I have been very lucky in that regard. I had a great professor during my Master, Prof. Maria Luisa Calvo from the School of Physics of the Complutense University of Madrid, who was truly inspiring. She went on being a great mentor along the years. Of course, my PhD supervisor, Prof. Susana Marcos from the Institute of Optics of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), who taught me almost everything I know on visual optics and about being a scientist, always supported me to develop novel breakthrough projects.

Tags:  EPS EOC  EPS Equal Opportunities Committee  gender equality  OSA  RSPS  Visual Optics and Biophotonics 

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Fully online EPS Condensed Matter conference attracts 2000 participants

Posted By Administration, Monday 14 September 2020
Updated: Tuesday 15 September 2020

Author: Kees van der Beek


Following the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the EPS Condensed Matter Division, the Condensed Matter Group GEFES of the Spanish Royal Physical Society RSEF and the organising committee took the unprecedented decision to hold the biyearly CMD general conference wholly online.

Thus, it was in an entirely remote form that CMD28 took place from August 31st till September 4th, under the name “CMD2020GEFES ONLINE”. The conference attracted 2000 registered participants, and nearly 1000 contributed and invited papers. It involved up to 17 parallel oral morning sessions, followed by afternoon plenary- and semi-plenary talks, and a host of afternoon special- and poster sessions. These included events organised by EPS Young Minds, as well as a very well attended session on Diversity and Inclusiveness in Physics Research (50 participants). All in all, a genuine conference atmosphere was recreated, with participation remaining strong during the entire week.

The plenary talks were scheduled in the first half of the afternoon (CEST), allowing the participation of delegates from the Americas and Asia. Thus, the opening session and the first plenary talk by Prof. Pablo Jarillo-Herrero of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was attended by more than 600 people. Gratuitous registration allowed the participation of physicists of all ages, and from all continents. Indeed, this edition of CMD has seen the largest number of participants bar the editions organized together with the German Physical Society DPG, it has also seen an unprecedented participation of 86 delegates from Latin America, 173 from Asia and the Middle East, and 29 from Africa.

CMD2020GEFES ONLINE hosted three Prize Award sessions. The Europhysics prize was awarded to Prof Jörg Wrachtrup of Stuttgart University on September 2, “for his pioneering studies on quantum coherence in solid-state systems, and their applications for sensing, and, in particular, for major breakthroughs in the study of the optical and spin properties of nitrogen vacancy centers in diamond”; the Olli V. Lounasmaa memorial prize for low temperature physics was awarded to Prof J.C. Seamus Davis of the University College Cork and Oxford University for his pioneering investigations and applications of exquisite scanning probe techniques for visualization of electronic quantum matter at the atomic scale on September 4th, and the Spanish GEFES prizes for young scientists were awarded on September 3rd.

In the weeks to come, the EPS Condensed Matter Division is planning to report on its experience with this novel conference format, its opportunities, its caveats, and lessons learned.

 

Figure Caption : Screenshot of the online CMD Europhysics Prize Award session during the CMD2020GEFES ONLINE  conference on Wednesday, September 2, 2020. (Top row) From left to right:  Prof. Dr; Jörg Wrachtrup, 2020 CMD Europhysics Prize laureate ; Kees van der Beek, chair of the EPS Condensed Matter Division; Petra Rudolf, EPS president ; Bart van Tiggelen, Editor-in-chief of EPL. (Bottom row) From left to right: Hermann Suderow, chair of the local organising committee; Serghei Klimin (delegate).

Tags:  con  EPS CMD  EPS Condensed Matter Division 

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Interview of Adriana Pálffy: We need measures to support a career in physics and having a family

Posted By Administration, Thursday 20 August 2020
Updated: Thursday 13 August 2020

Author: Luc Bergé



Adriana Pálffy is a theoretical physicist working at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany. By understanding light-matter interaction at the borderline between atomic, nuclear and quantum physics, she aims at obtaining quantum control over nuclear transitions. Her first contacts with physics started in her home town Bucharest, Romania, where she did her undergraduate studies. Adriana received her Ph.D. in theoretical physics at the Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany in 2006. She later moved to the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics and became a group leader in 2011. Adriana was a Distinguished Visitor Fellow of the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance in 2012 and 2013 at the University of the West of Scotland and the Strathclyde University. In 2019 she was awarded the Hertha Sponer Prize of the German Physical Society and the Röntgen Prize of the Justus Liebig University in Giessen for her research on the mutual control between x-ray photons and atomic nuclei. Just recently, Adriana obtained a Heisenberg Fellowship from the German Science Foundation that will allow her to move to the Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nueremberg in the fall 2020.

Luc Bergé, President-Elect of the EPS and chair of the EPS Equal Opportunities Committee (LB), interviewed Adriana Pálffy (AP).

LB: Why did you choose to study physics?
AP: According to a family joke, when I was three years old, visiting family friends asked me what would my profession be when I grew up. I replied “I’ll be a physicist like my mother”, although my mother is actually an electrical engineer! So you might say that my interest in physics began in the cradle. It was definitely supported by my mother, who was making up nice children’s stories for me about physical phenomena. This interest remained as I grew older, so I ended up indeed studying physics and becoming a physicist, “like my mother”.

LB: Any worry to match your family life and a career in physics?
AP:I have two small children, so far no permanent position, and the academia job market in Germany is very competitive. This does not make things easy. I am trying my best, but obviously I have less time to work long hours than my – mostly male and often childless – colleagues have. However, no matter the consequences, I wouldn’t have liked to miss a family just because of the career. Society should work on avoiding that scientists – male or female – need to make such a choice. It should not be about family OR job. But it takes some effort to offer conditions that enable having both family and a job.

LB: Are you worried about finding a job in physics?
AP: Yes, I worry about finding a job in academia within the geographical area which is also suitable for my family. The famous two-body or many-body problem for physicists and in particular female physicists with a family is notoriously difficult to solve. Generally speaking, I believe that finding a job as a physicist in the industry or other fields should be reasonably easy. Finding a permanent position in Germany in the academic milieu is very difficult, since there are only very few open positions. There were years where only one or no position with my profile (theoretical atomic/nuclear physics and quantum optics) was advertised at all. At the end of the day, you almost have to believe in miracles.

LB: What has been the personally most rewarding experience and also the biggest difficulty encountered so far in your career?
AP: Scientifically, I had many rewarding moments when projects were completed with nice results and good publications. A clear highlight was the year 2019, when I was awarded two prizes, the Hertha Sponer Prize of the German Physical Society, and later on the Röntgen Prize of the Justus Liebig University in Giessen for my research on x-ray quantum optics. I did my PhD in Giessen, and being awarded the Röntgen Prize from my Alma Mater meant very much to me. As for difficult moments, I think I cannot complain much – apart from minor disappointments, only the overall career situation poses a major question mark.

LB: Did you encounter any difficulty in finding funding for PhD or a post-doc position related to the fact that you are a woman?
AP: No, at that level definitely not. And also later in my experience with third-party funding so far I cannot say I felt any disadvantages in being female. What does feel strange is to be the only female candidate at interviews for professorships. This always raises questions in my head. Am I what they call in Germany the “quota” female candidate? Is this for real?

LB: Any suggestion to guarantee a balanced gender representation in physics?
AP: We probably ask for the impossible! Although the situation is much better in this respect in France than in Germany. You might therefore have better answers than me. However, I can throw in some arguments. We need more female students in physics to start with. For this we need a cool and more “female” image for physics in schools and early education. We need more female role models. And we need measures to support doing physics and having a family in the same time. It is with having a family that men and women stop being equal through the very asymmetry implemented by nature. This turning point comes early – with young people usually in their twenties or thirties – and it is decisive for what career paths women decide to pursue.

LB: Any particular advice for a young aspiring researcher?
AP: Choose your goals realistically but strategically and then give everything to reach them!

LB: Do you have any female ‘physicist cult figure’ or ‘role model’?
AP: That is a good question. I don’t think I have a particular role model, although I do admire very much the life and work of Marie Skłodowska Curie. What did help a lot was to see that there are women in physics and natural sciences which have succeeded with career and family. I think this is very important for young women. I would say that we are less bold to choose a path that wasn’t taken so far (and this makes Marie Curie so special). If all your successful colleagues are male, single or with a housewife at home taking care of the kids, then you start wondering whether this is the right place for you. I was very luck to meet early on as a young postdoc a number of successful female scientists that encouraged me to continue. This was not by chance – it was part of a mentoring program of the Robert-Bosch Foundation – and I am very grateful that I was given this opportunity.



Adriana Pálffy

Tags:  atomic physics  Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics  nuclear physics  quantum optics  theoretical physics 

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Roberta Caruso has Joined The EPS Executive Committee

Posted By Administration, Thursday 20 August 2020
Updated: Thursday 13 August 2020
Author: Daryna Pesina

 

The Action Committee of the Young Minds Project is happy to congratulate Dr. Roberta Caruso, our former chair, with being elected a member of EPS Executive Committee!

Roberta’s EPS journey began in 2010 when she subscribed to the society as individual member to create the Naples YM section (now PONYS). Since then, she has worked to organize local and national events within the section, until November 2015, when she joined the YM Action Committee. At that point, Roberta decided to step back from the front row in the local section, and assist the new members from a certain distance. In May 2018, she became YM program chair and played this role until 2020.  Along with organization of joined sessions during conferences, Roberta worked towards strengthening the relations between YM and other EPS Divisions and Groups and paid great deal of attention to promoting networking between the sections and the Action committee. During her term the committee has also instituted a new grant program for student-organized conferences (YM Conference Award), and put the basis for a mentoring program for YM members. Right after the end of her term as YM chair, she joined the EPS Executive Committee, where Roberta plans to continue working with YM towards the implementation of the mentoring project and towards the engagement of the physics community in the International Year for Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development.

Congratulations, Roberta, on your well-deserved success and good luck with bringing all your initiatives to life!

The Action Committee is also proud to welcome its new members on board: Mattia Ostinato (Naples, Italy) and Carmen Martin (Valladolid, Spain). We are sure that your extensive experience in outreach activities of your sections and organization of large scientific events, your skills that you mastered being part of the YM Project and willingness to take responsibility will help you make great contributions to the Young Minds development.

FLTR: Roberta Caruso, Carmen Martin and Mattia Ostinato

Tags:  EPS Executive Committee  EPS Young Minds 

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The EPS Edison Volta Prize 2020 is announced

Posted By Administration, Thursday 18 June 2020

The European Physical Society [EPS], the Fondazione Alessandro Volta, and Edison S.p.A. are delighted to announce the award of the 2020 EPS Edison Volta Prize to

  • Dieter Weiss
  • Jurgen Smet
  • Klaus Ensslin

"for their seminal contributions to condensed matter nano-science."

Dieter Weiss is recognized for discovering a most spectacular new quantum phenomenon, the “Weiss Oscillations”. Originally, he used standing light waves to generate a sub micrometer periodic electron density modulation in a 2-dimensional electron gas, which leads to new quantum oscillations if the circular motion of electrons in a magnetic field is commensurate with this modulation. Today modern electron beam lithography is able to bring these dimensions down to 10 nanometers, which allowed the realization of artificial crystals and new quantum devices. Dieter Weiss later extended the concept of “Weiss Oscillation” successfully to topological insulators and to 2-dimensional electron systems with magnetic modulation. His expertise in the realization of micro magnets opened the field of controlled spin injection in high mobility 2-dimensional systems so that his group belongs to the top teams in the field of semiconductor spintronics.

Jurgen Smet is recognized for the demonstration – in cooperation with Dieter Weiss - of the so.called Hofstadter butterfly and the correctness of the Composite Fermion concept, a new quasiparticle consisting of a combination of an electron and two flux quanta, as well as for the exploration of the special properties of composite fermions. Jurgen Smet is honoured especially for devising new tools based an ingenious combination of mK temperatures, microwaves, surface acoustic waves, optical excitations, and quantized magnetic fields, which allowed for his ground-breaking investigations on electron spin - nuclear spin interactions and correlations among electron charge and spin degrees of freedom, when these electrons are confined in two dimensions, in semiconductors or in graphene.

Whereas most of the research of Weiss and Smet focuses on 2-dimensional systems, Klaus Ensslin is specialized in the field of quantum dots. Klaus Ensslin receives the prize for his discoveries connected with nonequilibrium phenomena in quantum dots including the emission of microwave radiation from double quantum dots and the time resolved tunnelling dynamics in the occupation of biased quantum dots. The demonstration of strong coupling between a single spin or a single electron with a single photon in a resonator - the building block for long-distant correlation of semiconductor quantum bits and a crucial step towards quantum information processing - was a ground-breaking contribution of Ensslin’s group. Starting originally with quantum dots in GaAs, Ensslin is now a world-leading figure in the realization of single and double quantum dots in single and bilayer graphene.

EPS Edison-Volta Prize

The EPS Edison Volta Prize promotes excellence in research and is given in recognition of outstanding research and achievements in physics. The EPS Edison Volta Prize is given biennially to individuals or groups of up to three people. The laureates receive a medal, which is a faithful reproduction of the “Medaglia Premio dell’ Associazione per l’Incremento del Commercio in Como": a portrait of Alessandro Volta together with the saying: Alexandro Voltae Novocomensi, i.e. (dedicated) to Alessandro Volta from Novum Comum, which was the old name given to the city of Como by Julius Caesar.

The Prize was established in 2011 and was awarded for the first time in 2012 to R. D. Heuer, S. Bertolucci and S. Myers from CERN, Geneva. Other laureates of the prize include and in 2014 to J.-M. Raimond (2014) N. Mandolesi, J.-L. Puget, and J. Tauber (2015), M. J. Orrit (2016), and A. Brillet, K. Danzmann, A. Giazotto, J. Hough (2018)

Background Information

The European Physical Society provides an international forum for physicists and acts as a federation of 42 national physical societies. Founded in 1968, the EPS now has around 4000 individual members, and its Members Societies represent together over 130,000 physicists. More info: https://www.eps.org

The other partners and sponsors of the Prize are Edison S.p.A. (www.edison.it) and the Fondazione Alessandro Volta (http://fondazionealessandrovolta.it/).

Tags:  award  Condensed Matter  EPS Edison Volta Prize  nano-science 

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My models are all the women with whom I work and have worked

Posted By Administration, Thursday 11 June 2020
Author: Luc Bergé

Giuliana Galati is a 30-year old physicist. After graduating in Nuclear, Subnuclear and Astroparticle Physics from Bari University Aldo Moro (Italy), she completed her PhD at Naples University Federico II, working on the underground physics experiment OPERA searching for neutrino oscillations. In 2017, she won the national "Bruno Rossi" prize for the best PhD thesis in Astroparticle Physics, awarded by the Astroparticle Physics Committee of the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN). In 2019, she was awarded the national prize "Ida Ortalli" for commitment and effort in the science field by the Italian Physics Society.
She is now working on dark matter search and medical physics.

Giuliana is also highly involved in science communication. She co-founded a science podcast (www.scientificast.it) aimed at conveying complex science topics in a way that is accessible to all. This podcast became one of the most famous in Italy. Moreover, recently, she became one of the authors and hosts for the Italian TV series Superquark+, aimed at disseminating science to a broad audience (http://www.raiplay.it/programmi/superquarkpiu).

Luc Bergé (LB), President-Elect of the EPS and chair of the EPS Equal Opportunities Committee, interviewed Giuliana Galati (GG).

LB: Why did you choose to study physics?
GG: I have always been very curious about how physical phenomena work, but in middle school I hated mathematics and preferred literature. In Italy, for the final exam at the end of high school, students are asked to prepare an essay. I chose the topic of “Time” and on my own, I studied the paradoxes of Einstein’s relativity. It was like falling in love! What impressed me the most was that physics seemed to be magical, but at the same time real, without tricks or illusions!
I must admit that I wasn’t really fully aware of what I was getting into!

LB: Any concerns about balancing your family life and a career in physics?
GG: Sometimes yes, but I don't think that physics is the problem. The reality is that I like what I do and if I have a computer, I can work anywhere and at any time. If at the very beginning of your PhD, you start working more than you should, later it becomes difficult to do less. You keep working also outside working hours, sometimes neglecting leisure and a social life.

LB: Are you worried about finding a job in physics?
GG: I know that it is difficult, but in general I’m an optimistic person and I think that things will go well. If I cannot pursue a career in physics, I will find a plan B!

LB:  What has been personally the most rewarding experience and also the biggest difficulty encountered so far in your career?
GG: It’s hard to think of a single rewarding experience: every time I accomplish a task, I feel rewarded. Finding a difficulty is easier: the biggest one is realizing – and it happens often to me! – that I’ve made a mistake or that I still have so much more to learn….

LB:  Did you encounter any difficulty in finding funding for a PhD or a postdoc position because you are a woman?
GG: No, I did not. In my research group there are many women and, so far, I have never felt preferences for someone just because he was a man. Nevertheless, it’s evident that most full professors are men. I hope things are already changing and that no woman will soon have to choose between having a family or a career.

LB:  Any suggestion to guarantee a balanced gender representation in physics?
GG: That’s a challenging question. I don't like those systems that have a quota for women: I don't want to be hired or win a competition just because I’m a woman.
What I would like is to have equal opportunities in physics and equal obligations outside the research world. For new mothers, it would be useful to have more supportive infrastructures, for example, day-care or kindergartens.

LB:   Any particular advice for a young aspiring researcher?
GG: The first is: “Don't give up!” I still remember that I spent the first six months at university crying every afternoon because I couldn't understand most of the lessons. I felt lost and I believed that I couldn’t make it.
The second one is: build a team. Together we are stronger when preparing for an exam or when working as researchers. Share ideas, ask for help, offer help. Don’t be a lone wolf.

LB:  Do you have any female ‘physicist cult figure’ or ‘role model’?
GG: Absolutely! One of them is Prof. Mariateresa Muciaccia, one of my Professors at university. When I was a student, she was one of the few women full professors. Her lessons were the first ones that made me say: “ok, I’m in the right place!”. I was really fascinated by her and I decided to ask her to supervise my bachelor thesis. I still work in that field of research, so without her my life would have been so different!
I could say that my cult figures are also great women like Fabiola Gianotti, but the truth is that my models are all the women with whom I work and have worked. Believe me: even if they are not famous, they are all great ones!



Giuliana Galati – Photo: Assunta Servello


Tags:  dark matter  gender equality  interview  medical physics  nuclear physics  women in physics 

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The State of Physics Teaching in Europe

Posted By Administration, Thursday 11 June 2020
Author: David Sands

It is well known that a shortage of specialist physics teachers exists in many countries around the world. Of particular interest to the EPS is the situation in Europe, but actually it is not easy to find out exactly what is happening in individual countries. Science at school is treated as a homogeneous subject and there is little or no sub-division into the different fields. For example, in the UK the STEM Centre at York (STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) exists to provide support for teaching in STEM subjects, but on looking through the website I found it difficult to identify anything that related specifically to physics.

The shortage of teachers is not necessarily restricted to the sciences. Teaching as a profession is no longer seen as attractive, partly because of low pay but also because of the perception that it has slipped in social status. A recent report from the EU[1] , intriguingly titled, “Why boys do not want to be teachers”, contains some depressing statistics. An overwhelming 81%  of teachers in the EU feel that teaching is not valued in society, which might explain why a third of teachers work in schools ‘ with a shortage of qualified staff’. The word ‘qualified’ was not explained further and in the same paragraph mention was made of the shortage of teachers for students with special needs. However, it could also refer to those without a first degree in the subject they teach as well as, perhaps, those who do not have a teaching qualification.

Whatever the precise meaning, it points to some serious issues in the teaching profession.  Around 36% of all teachers in the EU are aged 50 or over while only 7% are under the age of 30. Moreover, 72% of teachers are female. This last statistic is devastating for physics. Although much has been achieved in recent years in improving the gender balance, physics is still very much male dominated. In the UK, for example, the proportion of female undergraduates is around 23%, give or take, so it would appear that whilst the teaching profession itself is facing a serious challenge, a low proportion of female graduates combined with a range of alternative, but attractive career options would suggest that physics is particularly hard hit when it comes to recruiting and retaining teachers.

The Physics Education Division (PED) recently launched a short survey[2] (8 questions) intended to gain a deeper insight into the situation. Individual members of the PED are physicists around Europe with a self-declared interest in education and are therefore well placed to comment. Just over 51% of the respondents to date teach in a university and a similar number are either teachers or involved in teacher education. Academics will know whether teacher shortages are affecting undergraduates entering university whilst teachers and teacher educators can comment meaningfully on the impact of teacher shortages on physics lessons at school.

The survey is not intended to be a definitive piece of research. Quite possibly, we will never arrive at a true picture without surveying the majority of schools in Europe, which is clearly a huge, probably impossible undertaking. However, we can get a better understanding than we currently have of what is happening in different countries in Europe. At the time of writing, 78 people from 25 different countries have completed the survey. This means that in some cases, only one or two people from a given country have commented, but that still represents a valid view. The overwhelming opinion of the respondents is that a serious problem exists. It is not a universal opinion, as illustrated in the figure below. Sixty respondents (81%) believe there is a shortage of specialist teachers in their country with 11% holding the opposite view (A). Of these 60, some 87% believe that physics is being taught by non-specialists with 57% believing that fewer physics classes are being taught (B) and 65% believe that this is affecting the quality of undergraduates entering university (C).

The next step is to contact those who have indicated a willingness to contribute further. This survey is only the start of the process of gaining a better understanding of the issues and the PED will be following up the responses to gain a deeper insight into the situation in particularly badly affected countries. The survey is available until 16:20 BST on the 29th July (see footnote 2)  if you would like to add your view.

Figure 1: The questions corresponding to the responses are indicated above the figures

 

Tags:  EPS Physics Education Division  study 

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Richard Zeltner elected as Chair of the EPS Young Minds Action Committee

Posted By Administration, Thursday 11 June 2020

Author: Richard Zeltner


Traditionally, the Young Minds programme chair is elected by the action committee during the annual leadership meeting. As the Corona-pandemic prevented a physical meeting in 2020 so far, the voting was instead held online early in May. Dr. Richard Zeltner, former president of the hBar Omega section in Erlangen and action committee member since end of 2018, has been elected and follows Dr. Roberta Caruso into office. During the electoral process he sketched and discussed possible new perspectives for the project`s in the upcoming years: First, the consolidation of the current infrastructure of the project, including the webpage and the social media presence. Second, the objective to develop Young Minds, its sections and its members towards being a voice of the new generation of scientists in Europe. In this vision Young Minds will contribute more strongly to raise the understanding on scientific practices and the awareness on topics of major concern, such as climate change, Fake News or disinformation campaigns, in the broad public on both the local, national and international level. As we are currently witnessing, in the midst of the Corona-pandemic, there are never enough efforts made to bring science and society closer together and to reduce communication barriers, creating mutual benefits. Third, increasing the prominence of industry-related activities in the project, thereby expanding and diversifying the network of its members, and opening perspectives towards career paths outside of academia.

Besides the election of the new chair there were further changes in the committee: Dr. Araceli Venegas-Gomez and Giorgio Nocerino left to pick up new challenges, and Hripsime Mkrtchyan (from Yerevan, Armenia) and Tanausú Hernández (Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain) , who joined early this year, were formally introduced. Many thanks to Araceli and Giorgio for their valuable contributions over the years and all the best for their future and to Roberta for leading the project during the previous two years successfully, and welcome to Hripsime and Tanausú.

Moreover, during the meeting the newly composed committee decided to aim at organizing a series of online seminars on networking and professional development. As some sections have already successfully launched online formats during the crisis to stay in touch with their audience, e.g. the outreach format Fisica in quarantena from Naples, the Action Committee would like to provide the sections content that would otherwise be included in the postponed leadership meeting. The first edition will be launched on 9th of June: Francesca di Franco, former member of the Naples YM section PONYS, will share her know-how on the production of multimedia contents to maximize the impact of science-related activities on social media.

From left to right: Hripsime Mkrtchyan, Tanausú Hernández, and Richard Zeltner

 

Tags:  EPS Young Minds 

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