Margaret M. Murnane

University of Colorado

Candidate for Vice President

Biographical SummaryMargaret Murnane

Margaret Murnane is a Fellow of JILA and a faculty member in Physics at the University of Colorado, where she runs a multidisciplinary experimental research group. She received her B.S and M.S. degrees from University College Cork, Ireland, and her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley. She remained at Berkeley for one year as a President's postdoctoral fellow before joining the faculty at Washington State University in 1990. In 1996, Professor Murnane moved to the University of Michigan, and in 1999 to the University of Colorado.


Murnane's work in understanding light-matter interaction at its extremes has stimulated new areas of investigation in atomic and molecular, plasma, and condensed matter physics, and has resulted in experimental tools used across a broad range of science. She created a new generation of laser technology capable of making light pulses just a few optical cycles in duration. This led her to a new understanding of quantum nonlinear optics, making it possible to use tabletop-scale lasers to generate coherent soft x-ray bursts with durations as short as attoseconds. These advances have been broadly adopted worldwide, with impact in the physical, biological, chemical, materials and nano sciences. Murnane enjoys wonderful collaborations with scientists worldwide in applying these new capabilities to challenging fundamental and applied problems. In the past two years, her work has touched on basic quantum dynamics, molecular physics, plasma physics, dynamics in magnetic and nanosystems, microscopy, and studies of material properties of direct relevance to nanoelectronics.

Murnane was a MacArthur Fellow in 2000, and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2004. She is a Fellow of the APS, the ACS, the AAAS, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. With her collaborator and husband Henry Kapteyn, she shared the Schawlow Prize of the American Physical Society, the Zewail Award of the American Chemical Society, and the R.W. Wood Prize of the Optical Society. Murnane is very interested in increasing diversity in science and engineering and has chaired the APS CSWP. She is the current Chair of the President's Committee for the National Medal of Science, and with Kapteyn, started a high-tech laser company.

Research Interest

Murnane's research made it possible to manipulate and understand our world at the smallest time and length scales. As an Assistant Professor, she identified the physics that limited the pulse duration of femtosecond lasers. Exploiting this understanding, she demonstrated the first simple and robust laser to generate light pulses <10fs in duration. This advance sparked a revolution in ultrafast optical science — thousands of lasers based on her designs are now used worldwide, enabling advances in physics, materials and nanoscience, chemistry and biology.


As an Associate and Full Professor, with a team of students and collaborators, she created ultrafast coherent x-ray beams on a tabletop by using a laser field to manipulate electrons on their fundamental timescales. This work melds quantum and classical physics, combining attosecond science and extreme nonlinear optics to create the shortest bursts of light ever produced – in the attosecond regime. By combining a deep understanding of quantum physics with extreme nonlinear optics, she succeeded in transforming femtosecond laser light into coherent x-rays with photon energy greater than 1 keV: here each x-ray photon results from the coherent combination of >5000 laser photons. This high-order nonlinear harmonic generation process represents a coherent version of the Rontgen x-ray tube. Murnane is now using this new light source to image at the nanometer level and to capture all dynamics relevant to function in atoms, molecules and materials.

Candidate Statement

Physics has played, and continues to play, a critical role in the prosperity of our society as a whole, and the American Physical Society plays a critical role in maintaining the health of the US physics community. By facilitating innovation and interaction within physics, communicating our successes, and by helping each of us to be better communicators, educators, scientists, writers, and speakers, APS is leading the way with targeted and effective programs that amplify our effectiveness. I am very interested in supporting and strengthening these efforts, and in helping to APS to plan for new challenges of the 21st century. 

APS programs make a difference. As a young scientist, my service on the APS CSWP (Committee for the Status of Women in Physics) gave me the opportunity to meet amazing women physicists, and to work with them to develop best practices to share with others. I did not meet a female PhD scientist until I was 22: the atmosphere has changed dramatically since then, but there is most definitely still a need for continued progress, particularly in the case of minorities in physics. Now as a multidisciplinary laser and x-ray scientist pursuing applications in materials science, nanoscience, AMO science and nanotechnology, my students attend many APS meetings - March Meeting, DAMOP, Plasma Physics, DLS - while my company exhibits at some of these meetings. I am fortunate to have excellent collaborations with academe, national laboratories and industry.

Looking forward, where can APS and our community forge ahead to better physics and serve our nation? We need to maintain the excellence in APS publications, which are a cornerstone in the scientific process. We need to articulate the richness and diversity of physics to the public and congress, spanning from the beauty of fundamental discovery science, to its critical role in developing the new technologies that drive our economy. We can continue to articulate the crucial role science plays in wise policy decisions. We can also help develop programs to better prepare physics students for STEM and industry careers, empowering them to be leaders in education or to be successful entrepreneurs in industry, and have an international perspective. Finally, in view of the increasing pace and international nature of science, we need to encourage  and reward collaboration and teamwork so that physics in the US continues to stay at the forefront of science.

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