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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Research & Inquiry February 6, 2019

Smithies Stand Out at Physics Conference

Students, faculty and alumnae at the APS Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics
Smith students, faculty and alumnae served as organizers and presenters at last month's APS Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics.

Each year in the United States, some 8,500 people receive undergraduate degrees in physics—but only about 2,000 of those degrees are awarded to women. Smith faculty, students and alumnae are working to change that.

A dozen Smithies, along with eight faculty and staff, were key organizers and presenters last month at the American Physical Society Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics, designed to provide students with networking opportunities and information about careers in physics. Attended by more than 240 participants from across Massachusetts, the program also included panel discussions and poster sessions, where undergraduates presented their research.

Cait Battle-McDonald ’20, one of the conference organizers, said she enjoyed learning about jobs opportunities in the field—and especially appreciated the advice offered by Smith alumnae.

“It was cool to see how Smith set them up for success and to learn about the path that they decided to take,” she said. “It was nice to see that you don’t have to have your life figured out when you’re 22. You can take a little bit [of time] before you end up where you’re supposed to go.”

At the conference, Smith physics alumnae shared the varied paths they took after earning their undergraduate degrees—from teaching to industry to doctoral research.

Yari Golden Castaño ’10, a systems engineer in the MIT Lincoln Labs, spoke about being among the top 100 candidates for the Mars One mission.

Smith Professor Nalini Easwar said Castaño was inspirational, sharing “her journey from a little girl who moved between Mexico and the U.S. in her childhood, to being a systems engineer and, finally, to her ultimate dream to see the earth from another planet.”

Simona Miller ’20 was inspired by a talk by Nergis Mavalvala, who works in MIT’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory Lab researching gravitational waves first theorized by Einstein.

Miller—who spent this past summer working on a gravitational waves project at a LIGO Lab at Cal Tech—noted that “there weren’t a ton of women working in the lab; it was mostly guys.” After hearing Mavalvala speak, Miller realized, “I can see myself in this position in the future.”

As a researcher studying the “fraction of a second” after the Big Bang, Battle-McDonald knows that one moment can make a difference. The conference was filled with such moments, she said, “seeing these people–especially women–who are making big things happen in science.”