Physics, Astronomy Grads Travel Back in Time
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Eighteen Smith alumnae who
majored in physics and astronomy will return to campus
this weekend for a symposium that celebrates their career
success along with the retirement this year of longtime
physics department members, Malgorzata Pfabe, Piotr Decowski
and Jerzy Pfabe.
“Traveling Back in Time,” a
two-day symposium free and open to the public on Saturday
and Sunday, April 9-10, will feature individual presentations
by alumnae, as well as group question-and-answer sessions.
several participating physics alumnae responded to questions
about studying physics and astronomy at Smith.
Gate: What prompted your
decision to major in physics at Smith?
GR’05, Mechanical and industrial engineering, University of Massachusetts,
Amherst: I decided to major in physics because all of the professors were so
inviting, the curriculum was well laid out, and I thought that majoring in physics
would help me figure out if I wanted to be an astronomer, a physicist or an engineer.
Emily Willis ’96, International Space Station Payload Operations Director, NASA—Marshall
Space Flight Center: I had an excellent Physics teacher in High School and decided
then that I wanted to major in Physics. I chose to go to Smith because of its
excellent reputation for educating women in the sciences.
Gate: When did
you decide to major in physics?
Emily Gardel ’06, engineering
and applied sciences, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary
Biology, Harvard University: I was really excited about majoring
in physics during the summer after my first year. I spent
the summer on campus conducting research with Nalini Easwar
[professor of physics] and a senior physics major. It was
the first time I ever did research and I was completely enthralled
about discovering something new.
was your focus as a Smith physics major?
Emily Willis: My
original intent was to major in physics and astronomy, however
I fell in love with electronics and electricity and magnetism
when I took those courses taught by Nalini Easwar and Piotr
Decowski, so I changed my plan to majoring in physics with
a minor in electrical engineering.
Molly Mulligan: I loved
the electronics class and quantum mechanics. The research
I did was mainly focused in the astronomy department.
are your foremost memories of studying physics at Smith?
Jacky Nyamwanda ’99,
senior medical dosimetrist, CMD, Department of Radiation
Oncology, Massachusetts General Hospital: Back then there
were very few physics majors; I was one of three in my year,
I believe. It always felt like a family and the faculty knew
us very well. Doreen Weinberger [associate professor of physics]
was my advisor and she was very warm and full of encouragement.
Molly Mulligan: I remember late
nights in the physics lounge doing quantum mechanics homework
and taking over every inch of board space in that room and
the attached lab. We would get delirious around 2 a.m., but
we had fun!
Emily Willis: I have wonderful
memories of my time at Smith. All of the professors were
good friends and great teachers. I remember spending many
hours in their offices while they patiently helped me with
all my questions. I remember spending a lot of time studying
with friends in the physics lounge.
you have advice for current physics majors?
It took me years to understand the looks people would give
me when I told them I was a physics major. I eventually realized
that they were impressed with this accomplishment. Use the
fact that people are impressed with your physics background
to your advantage.
Jacky Nyamwanda: Take a quantum
leap and think outside the box every now and then. A physics
degree offers a lot of different career paths that you may
not have considered. If you're not sure about graduate school,
definitely take a break and work in the real world before
making a final decision.
Emily Willis: You've picked
a great Major! In addition to learning how our universe works
you are learning critical thinking skills, problem-solving
techniques, and how to collaborate. These skills will be
important no matter what path you take after graduation.
Molly Mulligan: Have fun! Ask
questions! Make sure you do at least some of your problem
sets with other people so that you can laugh a lot.