2012 Women Physicist of the Month

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Previously Recognized Women of the Month
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January 2012 Woman Physicist of the Month: Helen Caines, Yale University

Helen CainesHelen Caines is one of the top scientists working in the field of Relativistic Heavy Ion Collisions.  Dr. Caines is also an exceptional scientist and mentor.  She is a creative and forward thinker when it comes to collecting, evaluating, and interpreting experimental data, and as a member of a large collaboration, she has distinguished herself as a primary driving force behind many analyses.  

Dr. Caines serves as an example of a hubris-free approach to doing science that is pragmatic and inspiring.  She is also a hands-on mentor, spending her working and after hours helping junior scientists at all levels of their science journey--from writing code, to helping direct analyses, to honing presentation and writing skills.  Helen has spent a prodigious amount of time editing papers, debugging code, preparing students for conferences and polishing theses.  

For many years Helen served as one of the STAR experiment's physics working group conveners, then as deputy spokesperson, in addition to her duties on the faculty at Yale.  She is an elected Fellow of the Institute of Physics, she co-manages the STAR upgrades and she is the Deputy Chair of the STAR Council.

Despite her many commitments Helen Caines is incredibly generous with her time when it comes to students and post-docs.  One does not have to be in her Yale group to seek advice and benefit from her wisdom and foresight.  Moreover, Helen is an exceptionally reliable and kind person.  She has become a friend to all of her students, whether they have stayed in the field or moved on.  For young people in the field, she is a welcome example of how one should comport oneself, be low-key, yet successful, dedicated, and forward-looking in one's science career.


February 2012 Woman Physicist of the Month: Elizabeth Simmons, Michigan State University

Elizabeth Simmons Elizabeth Simmons is the complete package.  She is an eminent theoretical physicist, a highly successful dean of a college, a terrific communicator with the ability to convey the excitement of physics to her students and to the general public, and she is an outstanding mentor for junior women in science.  

Elizabeth received her degrees from Harvard (A.B. '85, Ph.D. '90) and Cambridge (M.Phil. '86).  Dr. Simmons' work in theoretical particle physics focuses on electroweak symmetry breaking, with a recent emphasis on Higgsless physics at the LHC, and on phenomenology at the LHC.  She has authored over 120 publications in particle physics, but also several papers each in condensed matter theory, condensed matter experience, education and outreach, academic leadership and faculty development, and on women in science.  

Professor Simmons' numerous awards include the National Merit Scholar ('81), NSF Graduate Fellow ('85), Curie ('93), NSF CAREER ('95), DOE OJI ('95), APS Fellow ('02), and AAAS Fellow ('11) awards, as well as continuous grant funding from the NSF and DOE throughout her faculty career.

What makes Elizabeth's career truly remarkable is that she has also excelled as an administrator, serving as Director ('03-'07) of MSU's Lyman Briggs School, guiding it to College status, and serving as its first Dean (since '07).  At the same time she is a volunteer mentor to the 11 other female faculty members in MSU's Department of Physics and Astronomy, and has taken on various outreach assignments with the primary purpose of engaging more girls and young women in physics.


March 2012 Woman Physicist of the Month: Sherry Yennello, Texas A&M University

Sherry Yennello 2012If you could only choose one adjective to describe Sherry Yennello, it would be 'dynamic'.  Dr. Yennello has distinguished herself as one of the leaders in the field of nuclear reaction dynamics and equation-of-state studies.  Her aggressive approach to the solution of problems and intuition for instrumentation have permitted her to compile an unusually productive research record.  At the same time she has shown a deep commitment to science education at all levels and has maintained a highly visible and extensive role in both the academic and professional communities.

At Texas A&M, Dr. Yennello has developed an internationally-recognized program focused on the study of intermediate-energy nuclear reaction mechanisms.  Her research has made unique contributions to understanding the density dependence of the symmetry term in the nuclear equation of state, of critical importance to the study of astrophysical phenomena.  Also, she recently initiated and was one of the principal organizers of a successful effort to publish a volume that summarizes the current status of the field of nuclear reaction dynamics.  

Dr. Yennello's enthusiastic and energetic approach to the teaching of nuclear science is also an important aspect of her professional life.  At the graduate student level she has attracted numerous students, especially females, to her research program and has consistently had one of the largest groups of graduate students of any nuclear chemistry program in the country.  Her success has been widely acknowledged by the several awards she has received for both research and teaching, most notably the ACS Garvan-Olin Award and Fellowship in the American Physical Society (APS) and American Chemical Society (ACS).  She has also received numerous teaching awards, as well as NSF and Sigma Xi Young Investigator Awards.  She is equally active in her service activities: inside the university, in organizing conferences, in the Nuclear Chemistry Division of the ACS, the Division of Nuclear Physics in the APS, and as a rotator at the National Science Foundation.


April 2012 Woman Physicist of the Month: Kathleen Stebe, University of Pennsylvania

Kathleen Stebe April 2012Kathleen Stebe is renowned as one of the world experts on surface tension. From her work on characterizing and controlling Marangoni forces, responsible for the tears in a wine glass and unwanted water spots on integrated circuits, to her recent work on alignment effects at fluid-air interface, Kate’s work is creative, elegant, and intellectually thorough. Dr. Stebe only publishes work that she completely understands from the top down and the bottom up – fortunately for us, her high standards have resulted in both a deep and broad oeuvre for the community.

In addition to her research program, Dr. Stebe has served as Chair of her department since 2006, first at Johns Hopkins, now at the University of
Pennsylvania. Her record as chair highlights another one of her strengths – Kate is a graceful leader who promotes her students, colleagues, and faculty while maintaining her rigorous research program and speaking schedule. Regarded as a clear and enthusiastic speaker, she has delivered named lectures around the country and invited talks, seminars, and colloquia around the world.

A fellow of the American Physical Society (2010) and winner of the APS Frenkiel Award for Young Investigators, Professor Stebe gives back to the community, organizing dozens of meetings and sessions at workshops and conferences, serving on numerous editorial boards and review committees, consulting with industry, and devoting time and energy to outreach and mentorship: a contributor across the board.


May 2012 Woman Physicist of the Month: Christine Nattrass, University of Tennessee at Knoxville

Christine Nattrass May 2012Christine Nattrass is a post doc on the ALICE experiment at CERN at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  She is also on the PHENIX experiment at RHIC.  Her current focus in ALICE is EMCal support and work studying transverse energy in the EMCal.  She has worked on testing and commissioning front end electronics for the EMCal and co-led the ALICE analysis working group on transverse energy.  In PHENIX she helped with assembling the read out electronics for the VTX.  She also works extensively with the graduate students and organizes the UT/ORNL journal club.

Most recently, Dr. Nattrass chaired the organizing committee for the 2012 Southeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWIP) at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  This conference featured a tour of ORNL; panels on women in physics, undergraduate research, graduate school, careers in physics, and minorities in physics; student presentations; astronomy demonstrations; and technical talks on physics.  The Southeast conference was one of the largest of the regional CUWIPs with over 100 students attending.  Dr. Nattrass exhibited leadership and professionalism during her role as chair of the organizing committee, especially when the huge demand made planning, logistics, and budgeting extremely difficult.

In addition to her leadership with the Southeast CUWIP, Dr. Nattrass is also an up-and-comer to the heavy ion physics outreach community.  She plans to work with an established author on a children's book on high energy physics, and she is in the initial phases of a project where students from the Pratt Institute would make videos to explain relativistic heavy ion physics to the public.


June 2012 Woman Physicist of the Month: Ana Maria Rey, JILA and University of Colorado Physics Department at Boulder

Ana Maria ReyAna Maria Rey is an extraordinary theorist working on a remarkable number of diverse complicated problems.  While it has been only a few years since her Ph.D. work was awarded the Atomic, Molecular, and Optical (AMO) Physics Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award (2005), her research has already became instrumental in opening entirely new directions of research.  She has developed numerous collaborations with both experimental and theoretical scientists all around the world.

Dr. Rey joined JILA and the University of Colorado Physics Department at Boulder in 2008 and has built a remarkable group there in just a few short years.  Her research interests include degenerate Fermi gases and Bose-Einstein condensates, optical lattices, quantum phase transitions, strongly correlated systems, quantum information, quantum simulations, precision measurements, non-equilibrium phenomena, entanglement generation, quantum magnetism, disordered systems, alkaline earth atoms, and polar molecules.  Many of these topics are at the interface of AMO and condensed matter physics.  

Dr. Rey is a persistent and productive researcher.  For example, she has 14 peer-review publications in 2011 alone, five of which were published in Physical Review Letters and one in Science!  She has given numerous invited talks at conferences, colloquia, and seminars in the U.S. and abroad.  Her remarkable passion and enthusiasm for physics is truly inspiring.


July Woman Physicist of the Month: Ann Heinson, University of California, Riverside

Ann HeinsonAnn Heinson has made significant contributions to top quark physics and, in particular, her contributions to the search for and observation of single top quark production were extraordinary.  Dr. Heinson established the D∅ Single Top Group in 1995 and led it for many years.  Her leadership encouraged and supported excellent and innovative work from graduate students and postdocs, as well as more senior physicists.  She was totally engaged with every aspect of the search, while keeping a clear view of the overall picture.

In 1997, she co-authored a paper on single top quark physics that provided the conceptual underpinning for the decade-long work that followed.  That paper together with her exemplary leadership of the D∅ Single Top Group established her position as the foremost experimental physicist in single top quark physics.

In 2009, the D∅ Collaboration published the first observation of single top quark production.  Since then, the Collaboration has measured the single top quark production cross section in different channels and [Vtb], the CKM matrix element describing the decay of the top quark to a W boson and a bottom quark; searches for flavor-changing neutral currents and for anomalous couplings between W bosons, top quarks, and bottom quarks have led to improved limits.  All have been accomplished with Dr. Heinson's involvement.


August 2012 Woman Physicist of the Month: Marianna Safronova, University of Delaware

Marianna SafronovaMarianna Safronova, who is beginning her tenth year on the faculty of the University of Delaware, is a dynamic researcher who, since 2010, has been publishing one paper every five weeks.  She has become one of leaders in the theory of atomic structure and has attained levels of precision and versatility that have never been seen before.  She has brought new excitement into this venerable field by showing how important it is to the next generation of atomic clocks, dynamics of ultracold atoms, quantum information processing, tests of fundamental symmetries, physics beyond the Standard Model, and searches for time variation of the fundamental constants.  She is constantly sought out by experimentalists in these fields.

Last autumn she published a Physical Review Letter that reduced by a factor of four the uncertainty in the world's most accurate atomic clock which was recently confirmed by an experiment reported at the DAMOP meeting.  She has pioneered first-principles calculations of atomic polarizabilities and "magic" and "tune-out" wavelengths relevant to trapped ultracold atoms - the latter being reported by her with accuracies down to 0.01 nm, with full accounts of the uncertainty budget, which have consistently been found to agree with subsequent experiments.  Her calculations of parity non-conserving effects in atomic spectra have made her a frequent invited speaker at nuclear and particle physics conferences, and she is also a key resource for the atomic, molecular and optical physics community in developing links with those fields.

In addition to her spectacularly productive scientific work, she has been an effective mentor of women students.  Her first four graduate students all received the Ph.D. and now hold research positions, at least one of which is a permanent post in a national laboratory in India.  She is also an accomplished photographer at the semi-professional level whose evident delight in capturing images of nature reflects her enthusiasm for physics.  Her sense of fun and spirit of adventure in achievement are infectious.


September 2012 Woman Physicist of the Month: Lynn Cominsky, Sonoma State University

Dr. Lynn CominskyLynn Cominsky is a Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Chair of the Department at Sonoma State University (SSU).  Dr. Cominsky is an accomplished researcher with an extensive portfolio of projects ranging from the Extreme UltraViolet Explorer Satellite project to the NuSTAR mission.  Among the many highlights of her research career are the discovery of X-ray emission from the first radio pulsar found to be in a binary orbit with a Be star, PSR 1259-63 and the discovery of the 7.1 h X-ray binary period and the first eclipses from an X-ray burst source, MXB1659-29.

Dr. Cominsky founded the Education and Public Outreach group at SSU in 1999 and is the Project Director, Principal Investigator on over $12 million in grants.  The mission of the SSU E/PO group is to develop exciting formal and informal educational materials that use high-energy space science as a means to inspire students in grades 5-14 to pursue STEM careers, to train teachers nation-wide in the classroom use of these materials, and to enhance science literacy for the general public.  The group's largest project is the Education and Public Outreach program for the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope mission (a space mission that uses silicon strip detectors to observe cosmic gamma-radiation from objects such as pulsars and quasars in the energy range 10 MeV - 300 GeV).

In addition to her research and outreach, Cominsky has been a member of many different advisory committees, including the Chandra User's Group, the Structure and Evolution of the Universe Subcommittee of NASA's Space Sciences Advisory Committee, and the LIGO Program Advisory Committee.  She has served on the Executive Committees for the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society and for the Division of Astrophysics of the American Physical Society.  Currently, she is also Chair of the APS California Section.  In 1993, Dr. Cominsky was named both SSU Outstanding Professor and California Professor of the Year by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.  In 2008, Cominsky was named a Fellow of the California Council on Science and Technology, and in 2009, she was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society.


October 2012 Woman Physicist of the Month: Persis Drell, SLAC/Stanford University

PPersis Drellersis Drell is Professor and Director at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University.  She exemplifies excellence in the full spectrum of an academic career: research, teaching and administration.  Dr. Drell received her B.A. in mathematics and physics from Wellesley College and her Ph.D. in atomic physics from the University of California, Berkeley.  She then switched to experimental high energy physics and worked as a postdoctoral scientist with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where she studied weak and strong interactions at the electron-positron collider at SLAC.  She joined the faculty of the Physics Department at Cornell University in 1988 and remained there until 2002, when she accepted a position as Professor and Director of Research at SLAC.

Since her appointment in 2007 as the 4th Director of SLAC, she has transformed SLAC into a laboratory that excels in a broad spectrum of science ranging from particle physics, to astrophysics and cosmology, accelerator physics and photon science.  In 2010 the laboratory began operations on the Linac Coherent Light Source under her leadership.  During her career, Dr. Drell has played a major role in a broad range of experiments, including the Mark II experiment at the SLAC Linear Collider, the CLEO experiment at Cornell, and the Fermi Large Area Telescope at SLAC.

Dr. Drell has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award.  She is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  In 2010 she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. (Photo Credit: Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News Service)


November 2012 Woman Physicist of the Month: Jolie Cizewski, Rutgers University

Jolie CizewskiOne's first encounter with Jolie Cizewski is often as a student, when you are surprised and delighted to hear that someone you have only just met is willing to fund your summer REU or your travel to an important conference. But this is precisely what Dr. Cizewski does - she enables worthy undergraduates, graduate students and postdocs to participate in research and conferences that they may not otherwise get an opportunity to see. In fact, many of these opportunities lead to graduate school placements, postdoctoral positions, and even staff appointments at national laboratories.  

Dr. Cizewski works to better the careers - and lives - of those she mentors. This is, of course, not her only skill. Cizewski is a well-established, well-known and well-respected member of the low-energy nuclear physics community, focusing much of her time and effort on transfer and surrogate reaction studies with fission fragment nuclei. She is both an APS and AAAS Fellow, acted as Dean of the Rutgers University graduate school for six years, participated in the National Academy of Sciences Decadal Study on nuclear physics, and has served on the DOE Nuclear Science Advisory Committee (among others).

Cizewski has over 150 publications to her name, has been awarded millions of dollars in grant money over the years, and continues to support a vibrant research group. In addition, she is heavily involved in outreach, helping to oversee a program that pairs graduate students in science with middle schools and actively recruiting for the Rutgers graduate school. Providing funding to promising students and postdocs, many of whom represent minority groups in physics, is thus only one of many ways that she enhances the field.


December 2012 Woman Physicist of the Month: Jodi Cooley, Southern Methodist University

Jodi Cooley For her Honors Convocation address, Dr. Jodi Cooley-Sekula told the students of Southern Methodist University in Dallas Texas not to be afraid to fail, because if you cannot fail, you aren’t trying hard enough. On the other hand, during one student’s first few weeks working in Dr. Cooley’s LUMINA experimental dark matter lab for the Super Cryogenic Dark Matter Search collaboration, she also said, “You see… one of the things you’ll learn about being a physicist is that every now and then you need to stop and get some tea – and it’s always nicer to go with someone else!” As both an advisor and a physics professor, Dr. Cooley pushes her students to the edge of their limits while simultaneously holding a rope out to prevent falling over the edge of the cliff from frustration, stress, and a critical diagnosis of tea-break deprivation. She makes sure her classes feel interactive and every student has a chance to participate. Her lectures leave every student thinking more about the universe around them and how it works.  

Her love for teaching and her ability to inspire future physicists extends outside of the classroom, as she mentors a diverse range of postdoctorates, graduate students, and undergraduate students in the LUMINA lab. She continues asking questions, teaching even in the lab, stopping to explain advanced concepts to her younger students whenever their faces start looking confused. In that way, she lives up to the name of her LUMINA lab derived from the word lumen for “light” in Latin. Dr. Cooley spends her career illuminating dark matter and illuminating the minds of students. She encourages her more experienced students to work with an undergraduate in order to give them a chance to mentor as well. In that way, she helps build future generations of mentors like herself.  

Dr. Cooley is currently a PI on the Super Cryogenic Dark Matter Search in the Soudan Underground Laboratory in Minnesota; the SNOLAB in Sudbury Canada; the Germanium Observatory for Dark Matter in DUSEL, Leeds, South Dakota; and the Assays and Acquisition of Radio-pure Materials Collaboration. She has recently been awarded the NSF Career Award by the National Science Foundation and the HOPE Award (Honoring Our Professor’s Excellence Award) given by Southern Methodist University students to faculty who have made a significant impact to their academic education both inside and outside of the classroom. Dr. Cooley’s heavy involvement in dark matter research, her amazing ability to mentor students, and her passion for teaching make her an inspiring physicist.