2017 Women Physicist of the Month

January 2017 Woman of the Month: Laura Sinclair, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Headshot of Laura Sinclair Dr. Laura Sinclair is a physicist in the Applied Physics Division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). She is recognized for pioneering new robust optical tools based on fiber frequency combs that operate outside well-controlled laboratory environments. Dr. Sinclair’s internationally acclaimed comb research has been applied to time transfer across large distances and precision measurements of airborne contaminants in turbulent environments, dramatically increasing observation periods from hours to weeks. Recently, she was the technical lead of a team that was able to synchronize clocks over kilometers of turbulent air to within femtoseconds. Her comb design serves as the backbone of NIST fiber frequency comb systems. Dr. Sinclair’s invited article is the definitive 'how-to' guide for construction of a compact fiber frequency comb from commercially available off-the-shelf parts. This guide enables universities and small companies to build precision metrology tools at roughly one fifth of the price of larger, less robust commercial systems. Her research encompasses sophisticated theoretical approaches as well. She was the first to apply turbulence theory to explain coherent comb propagation through the atmosphere, leading to a new understanding of the fundamental limits to free-space femtosecond-level time-frequency transfer. Leading publications including Nature, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Physical Society’s Viewpoint have recognized the importance of her work through editorial commentaries.

Dr. Sinclair received a B.S. from the California Institute of Technology in 2004. A California native, she ventured into snowier parts of the country for her Ph.D., graduating from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 2011. She was a post-doc at NIST Boulder, including as a National Research Council (NRC) post-doctoral fellow, before joining the staff. When not wrangling optics equipment, Dr. Sinclair organizes a monthly "Awesome Women in Science" coffee hour to connect technical women across the NIST Boulder campus. Since 2008, she has served with the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group. Dr. Sinclair worked tirelessly assisting victims of the 2013 Colorado Front Range Flood where over 1,600 people were evacuated and 262 homes were destroyed in Boulder County alone.

February 2017 Woman of the Month: Rae Robertson-Anderson, University of San Diego

Dr. Rae Robertson-Anderson is Associate Professor and Chair of the Physics and Biophysics DHeadshot of Rae Andersonepartment at the University of San Diego (USD) where she has been a faculty member since 2009. In 2012, she was awarded a DOD AFOSR Young Investigator Program Award for her work with entangled DNA molecules. A few months later, she earned an NSF Career Award, and has developed a novel fluorescence force-measuring optical tweezers diagnostic with which she can track single molecules in complex actin networks. Dr. Anderson created a new, advanced biophysics laboratory course where undergraduate students learn to assemble optical tweezers and then pursue research projects. She has built a thriving undergraduate research program, and was invited to give a talk at the APS March Meeting 2016 about its successes. She has also sparked an increase in female students declaring majors in biophysics, bringing the overall percentage of female physics majors at UCD to 40%, up from less than 10% in the years before her arrival.

Dr. Anderson received her B.S. in Physics from Georgetown University in 2003, and her Ph.D. in Physics from UCSD in 2007. She completed her postdoctoral research training in molecular biology at The Scripps Research Institute. An NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and NIH postdoctoral training fellowship funded her Ph.D. and postdoctoral research. Since her initial appointment at USD, she has received several prestigious research and education grants, including an NSF CAREER Award and Air Force Young Investigator Award for her soft matter biophysical research and development of the undergraduate program. She is also a Cottrell Scholar and a Scialog Fellow. 

In 2015, Dr. Anderson won USD’s Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award. In the past 3 years, she has published twelve papers in top research journals, including an invited review. Ten of these papers have included undergraduate authors, and four of them had undergraduate first authors. Many of these students have traveled to present their research in regular sessions of the APS March Meeting. In 2016, one of Dr. Anderson’s students, Stephanie Gorczyca, won the Leroy Apker Award for investigating crowding effects on the diffusion and conformation of DNA molecules. Dr. Anderson has also helped create a Beckman Scholarship Program and USD’s first NSF REU program to support and recruit talented STEM undergrads. Dr. Anderson also joined the NSF STEM scholarship program to help attract talented students to pursue STEM majors.

March 2017 Woman of the Month: Sevil Salur, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

Dr. Sevil Salur headshot Prof. Sevil Salur is a renowned researcher in heavy ion physics, and studies experimental high-energy nuclear physics at Rutgers. She investigates the properties of strongly interacting, hot and dense matter produced at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland and at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, NY. This dense matter, a soup of quarks and gluons, is predicted to have been present 0.000001 seconds after the Big Bang. In addition to being a top researcher in her field, Dr. Salur is an excellent mentor for young researchers, both formally and informally. She has mentored eight undergraduate students (including four women) in research at Rutgers, as well as many postdocs and graduate students. Two of her undergraduate students received Goldwater Scholarships. In 2013, Professor Salur was named Rutgers Society of Physics Students' outstanding teacher. She has organized several conferences including Hot Quarks, a meeting specifically designed to enhance the direct exchange of scientific information among the younger members of the relativistic heavy ion community. Dr. Salur co-hosted the APS Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) at Rutgers in 2015 and helped organize the APS CUWiP at Princeton in 2017.

Dr. Salur earned her Ph.D. from Yale in 2006 where she helped pioneer studies of strange resonances in heavy ion collisions at STAR, BNL. As a post­doctoral researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, she worked on the first fully reconstructed jet measurements in heavy ion collisions with STAR. She then became a post­doctoral researcher at the University of California at Davis, where she joined the CMS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider and led early studies of jets in heavy ion collisions at the LHC. In Fall 2011, she joined the Rutgers faculty as an assistant professor.  In 2014, Dr. Salur received an NSF CAREER award to investigate the properties of this new state of matter at high density and temperature in a quantitative manner through a study of internal probes.

April 2017 Woman of the Month: Kiran Bhaganagar, University of Texas, San Antonio

Headshot of Kiran Bhaganagar Dr. Kiran Bhaganagar obtained her Ph.D. from Cornell University in the area of turbulence under the guidance of John Lumley, a legendary figure in turbulence. Following her Ph.D., Bhaganagar did her postdoctoral research at UCLA under the guidance of Professor John Kim. She has made important numerical and theoretical contributions to advancing the understanding of roughness in wall-bounded inertial and buoyancy-driven turbulent flows. As well, she has developed direct numerical simulation (DNS) tools that have become a computational milestone in the simulation of inertial and buoyancy-driven turbulent flows over complex geometry.

Bhaganagar has made original contributions of applying the concepts of turbulence to study complex problems of wind turbines, atmospheric pollution and chemical warfare agents. Currently, Bhaganagar is working on novel direction of integrating unmanned aerial vehicles in improving turbulence model predictions for atmospheric flows. Her work is a major step towards using mobile sensing framework for improved forecasting of the atmosphere, which is critical for wind energy, atmospheric pollution issues, and health. In the last three years, she has received three separate NSF grants to address fundamental questions on turbulence in wake of wind turbines, and has served as the primary principle investigator to lead the efforts. Recently, the United States Army funded Bhaganagar for her innovative research in the area of using drones to improve predictions of the wind conditions.

Bhaganagar is currently an associate professor and chair of the Graduate Student Committee in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Texas, San Antonio. She teaches courses in numerical methods, fluid dynamics, turbulence and computational fluid dynamics. She takes an active role in training and mentoring graduate and undergraduate students, and serves as an associate editor for Progress in Computational Fluid Dynamics Journal. Bhaganagar has taken a leadership role in establishing state of art laboratory facilities consisting of unmanned aerial drones, plume testing chamber and high-performance computing environment for integrating mobile sensing and turbulent simulations.

May 2017 Woman of the Month: Oksana Ostroverkhova, Oregon State University 

Headshot of Oksana OstroverkhovaOksana Ostroverkhova received her degree in Physics and Optical Engineering with honors from Kiev Taras Shevchenko National University in Kiev, Ukraine in 1996. She continued her graduate studies at Case Western Reserve University with Professor K. D. Singer, where she specialized in the photoconductive and nonlinear optical properties of polymers and liquid crystals, and received a Ph.D. in 2001. Her postdoctoral work at Stanford University with Professor W.E. Moerner involved physics and applications of photorefractive organic materials, as well as single molecule fluorescence spectroscopy of organic optoelectronic materials. The Killam Memorial Fellowship award enabled Dr. Ostroverkhova’s work on ultrafast THz spectroscopy of organic semiconductors in the group of Prof. F.A. Hegmann at the University of Alberta. In 2005, Dr. Ostroverkhova joined the Physics Department at Oregon State University (OSU), where she is currently an Associate Professor.

Ostroverkhova is a recipient of several awards, including the NSF CAREER award, the OSU Milton Harris Award for Basic Research, and the OSU Loyd Carter Award for Outstanding and Inspirational Teaching. Her current research interests are in the optoelectronic properties of organic materials spanning various time and spatial scales, in the development of sustainable (opto)electronic materials, and in utilizing optical properties of materials in entomology. Her vibrant research group attracts dedicated postdocs, graduate and undergraduate students, whom she has shepherded to successful careers. She also is an entrepreneur, turning a research collaboration to study the fluorescence of wildflowers to understand why bees are attracted to them into a small-business proposal.

June 2017 Woman Physicist of the Month: Lilia Woods 

Headshot of Lilia WoodsDr. Lilia Woods obtained a Ph.D. in condensed matter physics from the University of Tennessee under the guidance of Prof. Gerald D. Mahan. She was a postdoctoral researcher at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory/University of Tennessee, which was followed by a National Research Council Director’s funded Postdoc position at the Naval Research Lab. Dr. Woods then joined the Department of Physics at the University of South Florida, where she is currently a professor. Her group of graduate students and postdocs work on a variety of cutting edge problems reaching across condensed matter physics, materials science, and devices. Dr. Woods’ expertise is in theoretical and computational condensed-matter physics, where she pursues various fundamental and applied problems at the forefront of fluctuation-induced phenomena in novel materials, thermoelectric transport, and fundamental properties of emergent materials. She has made important contributions in uncovering how Dirac-like physics play out in electromagnetic fluctuations phenomena and optical properties of materials. Her work in thermoelectricity has had great impact, including novel transport processes in nanostructured and polymer composites as well as electron and phonon band structure engineering in materials for improved efficiency. Dr. Woods' research has led to novel devices for which US patents have been awarded.

Dr. Woods has also been active in her outreach efforts to high school students and teachers in the Tampa Bay area. Her Summer High School Teaching Program has successfully attracted students in the STEM fields, particularly physics, at the University of South Florida. She works with faculty and graduate students to develop presentations, in-class demonstrations, lab visits, and experiments so high school students can actively participate and prepare for successful undergraduate studies in physics. Dr. Woods also actively participates in summer activities directed by the USF Arts and Sciences College to improve the content of knowledge of high school teachers in the Tampa Bay area.

July 2017 Woman Physicist of the Month: Burcin Mutlu-Pakdil

Headshot of Burcin MutluDr. Burcin Mutlu-Pakdil obtained a Ph.D. in Astrophysics from University of Minnesota Twin Cities in June 2017. Her field of research is extragalactic astronomy, in particular, studying the structure and dynamics of galaxies, their supermassive black holes (SMBHs), and examining what this can tell us about the galaxy formation process. Her research in black holes focuses on the coevolution of black holes with their host galaxies. Her efforts in this area are spent studying observed scaling relations between properties of galaxies and the mass of their central SMBHs. Her first published paper is on a census of SMBHs in the nearby Universe, estimating their masses to determine how they grow and evolve over time. Also, she has been involved in a collaborative project in search of the missing population of intermediate-mass black holes (IMBHs). Discovering elusive IMBHs will further our understanding of early galaxy formation. Recently, her research in galaxy structure has led to a discovery of an extremely rare galaxy. This work has provided a first description of a double ringed elliptical galaxy, and received extensive media coverage both in the US and abroad (e.g. television, radio, newspaper articles, and magazine articles). In August 2017, she joined the Astronomy Department and Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona as a postdoctoral research associate.

As a female, immigrant astronomer and first-generation in her family to attend college, Dr. Mutlu-Pakdil has long been committed to diversity and equal opportunity in higher education. She grew up listening to her father’s stories about how he was successful in elementary school. Unfortunately, he dropped out of school after the fifth grade to take care of his parents. These childhood stories are the motivating force for her commitment to support and improve higher educational opportunities. Throughout her graduate education, she has volunteered to one-to- one mentoring programs for female high school students. She met with them at least once a week to discuss topics of interest to women in science and engineering, such as achieving a work/life balance and creating a career plan. In addition to mentoring, she has been involved in several K-12 outreach programs to engage female students in science. She gave several talks as a female astronomer to promote women in STEM. Due to her contributions to improve the climate for women, she has been selected as the 2017 Linda Larson Woman of the Year. As a part of the effort to reach out to the general public, Dr. Mutlu-Pakdil recently began working with Dr. Adrian A. Smith at North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences on a series of short films for a non-scientific audience to present her research. The first video is now available on YouTube and had more than 45,000 hits in one week. She gave a live interview to STEAM-WIN (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math-Women International Network) for the purpose of inspiring women with the motto “If she did it, so can I”.