Berkeley to host nearly 170 aspiring young women physicists

ATTENTION: Reporters covering higher education and science

WHAT: The West Coast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics, a three-day event designed to encourage attendees to pursue careers in a field where women are still a minority. Talks, panel discussions, lab tours and a career fair will be held the University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

The conference, which will draw nearly 170 women from the western U.S. who major in physics and related fields, is one of eight concurrent regional conferences sponsored by the American Physical Society that attract about 1,000 women nationwide. This is UC Berkeley’s first year as host of the five-year-old event, which expanded from six regional conferences last year and three in 2010.

Gabriel Orebi Gann, assistant professor of physics, discusses the need for women in her field and the obstacles they face. Roxanne Makasdjian video.

WHEN: 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17, through 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19

WHERE: LeConte Hall, UC Berkeley campus (Saturday) and LBNL (Sunday). A physics EXPO/career fair, 4-6 p.m. Saturday, will be held in the atrium of UC Berkeley’s Hearst Memorial Mining Building. An optional tour of LLNL is scheduled for Friday afternoon.

WHO: Saturday’s keynote speaker is planet hunter Debra Fischer, Yale University professor of astronomy and former UC Berkeley post-doctoral fellow. Other speakers are:

  • Saul Perlmutter, 2011 Nobel Laureate, UC Berkeley professor of physics, LBNL researcher
  • Luisa Bozano, IBM Almaden research scientist
  • Frances Hellman, UC Berkeley professor and former chair of physics, LBNL researcher
  • Clara Moskowitz, associate editor for space and physics, Scientific American
  • Sofia Quaglioni, LLNL theoretical physicist

DETAILS: Women historically have been underrepresented in the field of physics, but the numbers are gradually improving. This is due, in part, to efforts like these national conferences to encourage women majoring in physics to remain in the field, pursuing doctoral degrees or entering careers ranging from industry to finance.

“We want to give women the chance to continue in physics in or outside academia, to show them the great breadth of options there are and encourage them to go out and pursue them,” said conference organizer Gabriel Orebi Gann, UC Berkeley assistant professor of physics and LBNL physicist.

Orebi Gann noted that the percentage of undergraduate women majoring in physics at UC Berkeley has hovered around 20 percent for more than a decade, but that the percentage of new women graduate students pursuing a physics Ph.D. rose to 29 percent this year, double the percentage in 2000.

“We aren’t aiming for a 50-50 mix; we just want women to feel that if physics is what they love and want to do for the rest of their lives, that it’s a real option,” she said.

The UC Berkeley conference is sponsored by UC Berkeley, LBNL, LLNL, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Intel Corp. and Elsevier publishing. National sponsors are the American Physical Society, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy and the American Astronomical Society.

NOTE: Reporters are invited to cover the meeting and speak with attendees, organizers and speakers. To make arrangements, please contact Gabriel Orebi Gann (510) 495-8235, gabrielog@berkeley.edu; or Robert Sanders (510) 643-6998, rlsanders@berkeley.edu.