By: Liz Inman
EDUCATION: B.S. Physics, UCLA; currently in my 2nd year in the PhD program in Physics at Stony Brook University
RESEARCH INTERESTS: Accelerator Physics
CURRENT RESEARCH : I am currently working on a proof of principle prototype of a meter-scale plasma channel for plasma-based accelerators. The creation of the plasma channel requires maintaining a high laser intensity to ionize a gas to plasma over a distance on the scale of the channel. This can be facilitated by the flying focus method in which a chirped pulse (which means that the frequency of the pulse varies with time, like a bird’s chirp) is passed through a diffractive lens and the different frequencies in a chirped laser pulse can be focused such that certain frequencies come into focus first and the rest of the frequencies follow after. The advantage of the flying focus method is the flexibility in controlling the velocity of the laser pulse and the uniform distribution of the laser intensity before the pulse loses energy due to plasma effects, like refraction.
FUTURE GOALS: I would like to work on research projects in a national laboratory or for the government.
Why did you want to be a part of GWiSE?
When I started graduate school, I noticed a significant drop in the number of women in my program compared to when I was an undergraduate student. Only around 20% of graduate students in physics are women, and the numbers drop higher up in the field. I want to be a part of GWiSE in order to gain a support system and be a part of a community in which issues faced by women in STEM, like gender biases, can be addressed. I also hope that I will be able to support other women in male-dominated fields as well as mentor younger students interested in a career in STEM.
What/who got you interested in your field?
As a young child, I was curious about space and enjoyed science. I had a simple telescope through which I could observe the night sky and a book which explained what I saw and beyond. My mother inspired and encouraged me to pursue science as it was a field not many people chose to go into, especially in India, and I had a genuine passion for it. I enjoy working with my hands and as my interest in building machines and instruments that facilitate scientific research grew, I chose to become an experimental physicist.
When did you know you were interested in pursuing a degree in science/engineering?
I knew I wanted to pursue STEM when I was five and dreamed of becoming an astronaut. Over the course of the years, my interests developed and I chose to major in physics in college.
What do you think needs to happen for there to be more women in science/engineering?
I believe that there are many things that need to happen for there to be more women in STEM. One of them is exposing young girls to science in a way that encourages them to pursue STEM without viewing the field as “masculine” or “for boys”. Often times, science/engineering is believed to be a male interest and when young girls are exposed to these views, they get discouraged from pursuing a STEM field as they feel unwelcome. In addition, better support and options for women with families might keep them in the field.
Name one achievement/award/moment that you are proud of and why:
One achievement I am proud of is giving one of the speeches at my college commencement. I was a very shy and timid teenager and experienced a major growth in my confidence during my college years as I volunteered at various events and interacted with peers and professors in classes and research labs. Freshman year me would never have imagined volunteering to speak at commencement as a senior.
Favorite way to spend a free day:
I love traveling and exploring new places, whether it’s the area I am living in or farther away. Now that I live in New York, visiting NYC is one of my favorite things to do if I have the time because there are many interesting ways to spend time there, whether it is checking out a board game café or cycling around Central Park.
If you didn’t have to sleep what would you do with the free time?
Learn a new skill. I do enjoy sleep and need my 8 hours, but if I didn’t have to spend that time resting, I would put more time into learning and becoming proficient in music theory or a different field of study, like aerospace engineering.
Best sunrise seen to date:
One of the best sunrises I have seen was at Yellowstone National Park during the solar eclipse in August 2017, because it felt like we had two sunrises in only a couple of hours. As the sun rose at around 7AM, the birds chirped, animals started making noises, and the Grand Teton mountains were beautifully lit by the sun’s warm morning rays. However, when the eclipse began, all of this was reversed and totality brought silence among all living creatures with a night-like sky and what appeared to be a 360 degrees sunrise/sunset. As the moon moved away from the sun, the mountains were lit again by the sun, giving the illusion of a second sunrise.
What is your most treasured memory?
One of my most treasured memories was organizing one of the American Physical Society Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (APS CUWiP) that was hosted at UCLA in January 2017. The conference brought together around 250 undergraduate students from Southern California and neighboring states for a weekend of talks, workshops, and networking opportunities.
If your childhood had a smell, what would it be?
My childhood would have the smell of the earth after rains. It reminds me of the rainy evenings when I returned to my grandparents’ place after school and sat on the front porch snacking on warm corn on the cob.
If you were given two million dollars, how would you spend it to benefit the most people?
I would spend the two million dollars on education and healthcare for the underprivileged. I believe strong education opens many doors and should be a right rather than a privilege.
If you could only live in one area (city/beach/mountains/desert/plains) for the rest of your life, where would you live and why?
If I had to choose only one type of place, I would like to live in a city. I grew up and went to college in big cities (San Jose, CA; Bangalore, India; Los Angeles, CA). The diversity of people and cultures, and the variety of exciting activities to do and things to see in cities appeal to me.