Campus Life

Achievements of women in physics celebrated at international conference

Women are still a minority in the field of physics but every few years they come together from all parts of the world to celebrate their achievements, exchange ideas and discuss ways to address the gender gap.

Drs. Adriana Predoi-Cross and Arundhati Dasgupta, both professors in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Lethbridge, were among more than 200 scientists from 52 countries to attend the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) fifth annual International Conference on Women in Physics (ICWIP) at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.

Predoi-Cross and Dasgupta, both part of the organizing committee, planned and prepared for the conference for two years. Held in early August, this year marked the first time the conference has been held in North America.

Dr. Adriana Predoi-Cross

In addition to celebrating the achievements of women in physics throughout the world, the participants attended workshops, built networks with colleagues around the world, gained skills for career success and formed regional working groups to advance women in physics.

“The conference increased the scientific visibility of women doing physics research and thereby put a spotlight on women’s contributions to physics internationally,” says Predoi-Cross.

The conference workshops focused on topics such as gender studies in physics, improving the working environment, physics education, cultural perceptions and bias in scientific practice, and professional development and leadership for women in physics.

"I believe the positive effect of ICWIP 2014 will go beyond the physics community and will have a strong effect on women leaders in all fields of science and technology," says Predoi-Cross.

“Apart from the scientific excellence of these amazing women scientists, the story of their personal journeys was also shared with the conference participants,” says Dasgupta.

Dr. Arundhati Dasgupta

Melissa Franklin, an experimental particle physicist at Harvard University, talked about the difficulties she experienced trying to find a lab of her own, while Patience Mthunzi, a senior scientist in the National Laser Centre at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa, spoke about being mocked because of her Zulu background. Sabine Stanley, a physics professor at the University of Toronto, talked about the benefits of having a spouse who is happy to follow her wherever her career takes her.

Women make up less than 15 per cent of physicists in the world yet more than 90 per cent of those who attended the conference were women.

“It was clear that the scarcity of women in physics, especially in leadership positions, is a problem for many countries,” says Predoi-Cross. “Women, men, institutions, and governments need to work together to encourage, educate, recruit, retain, advance, and promote more girls and women in physics and other science and technology professions.”

To that end, conference participants unanimously approved a resolution that will be presented at the next General Assembly of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics in October 2014.

More information about the conference is available on the IUPAP website.