Keynote Speaker: Margaret Murnane

Margaret MurnaneAward-winning physicist Margaret Murnane began her journey to becoming a world-renowned expert on ultrafast lasers in the countryside of Midwest Ireland. Her father, an elementary school teacher, loved science and used to reward his young daughter with chocolates or a new science book from the library when she solved math puzzles. When she was 8, one of those books, with an illustration of Archimedes in the bathtub, kindled a lifelong desire to learn about the world by observing it. She reveled in her high-school physics class, even though “it was my worst subject.”

Undeterred, she attended University College Cork (Ireland), earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in physics. Her university courses were academically challenging, but fascinating. She graduated hooked on the idea of having a career in physics, even though it meant leaving Ireland to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley. Murnane did her thesis work building an ultrashort-pulse laser in Roger Falcone’s laboratory. It took her a year to build the laser, another six months to refine and characterize it, and two years to demonstrate that it could generate fast x-ray pulses. Murnane graduated in 1989 and a year later received the American Physical Society’s (APS’s) Simon Ramo Award for her thesis. During her graduate studies, Murnane met fellow student Henry Kapteyn, who became her husband in 1988 and a life-long collaborator. In 1990, the couple moved to Washington State University, where they set up a joint laboratory dedicated to the fast-moving and competitive field of ultrafast laser science.



Jennifer BernhardJennifer Bernhard is a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering as well as the Associate Dean for Research for the College of Engineering.  Her research addresses applications-oriented electromagnetic problems with an emphasis on theoretical analysis and experimental investigation. Her research group focuses on two areas: Electromagnetics for Wireless Communication and Reconfigurable Active and Passive Antennas.



Laura GreeneLaura Greene is the Swanlund and Center for Advanced Study Professor of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Associate Director for the Center for Emergent Superconductivity. Her research is in strongly correlated electron systems focusing on electronic spectroscopies and the search for new families of superconductors.

Greene is vice-chair of the Division of Materials Physics and is a founding member the new Forum for Outreach and Engaging the Public of the APS. Her service also includes the International Union for Pure and Applied Physics, Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee, the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies, and is the editor-in-chief of Reports on the Progress in Physics.

Greene is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Institute of Physics (UK), AAAS, and APS. Her honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the E.O. Lawrence Award, and the Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award. She has co-authored almost 200 papers and presented over 300 invited lectures.

“Taming Serendipity in Lab and Life”

As we pass the centenary of the discovery of superconductivity, the design of new and more useful superconductors remains as enigmatic as ever. As high-density current carriers with little or no power loss, high-temperature superconductors offer unique solutions to fundamental grid challenges of the 21st century and hold great promise in addressing our global energy challenge in energy production, storage, and distribution. Historically, the discoveries of superconductors were predominately guided by serendipity. Some of us have worked to create a global network to find a way, together, to predictively design new superconductors. Global networks of communication among scientists in general, and among women and minorities in particular, also play a crucial role in our addressing 21st century physics.

Joannah MetzJoannah Metz is a senior exploration geologist at Shell Exploration and Production Company in Houston, Texas. She received undergraduate degrees in engineering physics, astronomy and geology from Illinois. During her undergraduate career, she completed internships at NASA Ames, the Kennedy Space Center, and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. She was a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the University of Cambridge where she earned an MPhil in Polar Studies.  She earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in planetary science. She was a science team member on the Mars Exploration Rovers and the HiRISE camera team on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

“What’s next? Career opportunities in related fields and industry”


Pamela Gay is an assistant research professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She is an astronomer, writer, podcaster, and science communicator focused on using new media to engage people in science and technology. Through CosmoQuest.org, she works to engage people in both learning and doing science. She is involved in the leadership of many citizen science projects and communicates astronomy through media productions like Astronomy Cast. Dr. Gay received a B.S. in Astrophysics from Michigan State University and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Texas.


Young-Kee KimYoung-Kee Kim, an experimental particle physicist, is the Louis Block Professor in Physics at the University of Chicago. Since July 2006, she has served as deputy director of Fermilab. In this role, Kim leads development and execution of the strategic plan for the laboratory. Kim has served on numerous national and international advisory committees. She has devoted much of her research work to understanding the origin of mass for fundamental particles by studying the two most massive particles, the W boson and the top quark. Kim served as spokesperson of the CDF experiment at Fermilab’s Tevatron, a premier particle physics experiment with more than 600 physicists from around the world.

Kim was born in South Korea and earned her BS and MS in physics from Korea University in 1984 and 1986, respectively, and her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Rochester in 1990. Her postdoctoral research was done at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. She was an assistant, associate and full professor of physics at University of California, Berkeley, before she moved to the University of Chicago in 2003.

Her honors include the University of Rochester’s Distinguished Scholar Medal, the Ho-Am Prize, South Korea’s Science and Education Service Medal, Korea University’s Alumni Award and the Professional Opportunities Award for Women in Research and Education from National Science Foundation. She is a Sloan Fellow, a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and a Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science.


Monica PlischMonica Plisch is associate director of education and diversity for the American Physical Society (APS).  She spends most of her time on the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) project and is also engaged in efforts to promote women and minorities in physics. Dr. Plisch completed her doctoral studies in physics (nanomagnetics) at Cornell University and received her undergraduate degree in engineering physics from the University of Illinois.

“The Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC)”

Fewer than half of all high school physics classes have a teacher with a degree in physics. The need for qualified teachers is becoming more urgent with the dramatic increase in high school physics enrollments, which have more than doubled over the last 20 years. To address this need, APS in partnership with AAPT launched the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) project. Since 2000, the project has funded 27 sites to build model physics teacher education programs, which have collectively more than doubled the number of graduates prepared to teach physics. In addition, PhysTEC has established a national coalition of more than 275 institutions and organizes conferences and workshops. The project recently published the first collection of peer-reviewed papers on physics teacher education, and sponsored the Task Force on Teacher Education in Physics. APS is collaborating with the American Chemical Society to initiate a similar project in chemistry teacher education.


Sam ZellerSam Zeller is a staff scientist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in 2009. She recently received a Department of Energy Office of Science Early Career Award and is currently co-spokesperson for the MicroBooNE experiment at Fermilab. She received a Ph.D. in physics from Northwestern University in 2002 and earned a Mitsuyoshi Tanaka Dissertation award in Experimental Particle Physics for this work in 2003.  She worked at Columbia University and Los Alamos National Laboratory before joining Fermilab.

“From Ballet to Particle Physics: My Path in Science”

Just like the trajectories of subatomic particles produced in high energy particle collisions, my path in science was not always a direct one. I will talk about the decisions that led me to my current position, some of the challenges along the way, and my current research in experimental particle physics. Looking back, these are some of the things I wish I would have known when I was choosing a career in science.


Kawtar HafidiKawtar Hafidi is an experimental nuclear physicist at Argonne National Laboratory.  Her research interests focus on the study of the structure of nuclear matter in terms of its most fundamental constituents namely quarks and gluons.

She received her PhD from the University of Paris XI in France and she is currently conducting research projects Jefferson Lab in Virginia and at FermiLab in Batavia, IL.

Dr. Hafidi has led Argonne’s Women in Science and Technology (WIST) program and was chair of the American Physical Society’s Committee on Status of Women in Physics (CSWP). She received numerous awards and has been recognized for her outstanding contributions, in both science and leadership, including: the US Department of Energy Outstanding Mentor Award (2010), the Association for Women in Science (AWIS-Chicago chapter) Innovator Award (2011). Most recently, she has received the Pinnacle of Education Award (2012) by the UChicago-Argonne LLC for her efforts to inspire and encourage young women to consider scientific careers.

She is also an adjunct professor at Benedictine University teaching physics, working towards her black belt in mixed martial arts, as well as an avid soccer player and fisherwoman. She is a mom of a seven-year-old son, Omar.

“The Quest for the Color Force”

The strong interaction also called the nuclear force or the color force is one of the four fundamental interactions of nature. it is the force that binds protons and neutrons (nucleons) to form the nucleus of an atom. On a smaller scale, less than the radius of the nucleon, it is also the force (carried by gluons) that holds quarks together to form nucleons and other hadron particles. The color force is described by quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the theory of strong interactions. Understanding QCD and its implication in the formation of particles is the main focus of my research. During my talk, I will give you a flavor about research in experimental nuclear physics and I will share with you some of my personal experiences as a woman physicist, a mentor and a mom.


Aida El-KhadraAida El-Khadra is a professor of physics at Illinois. She received a Diplom (Masters) in Physics from the Freie Universität Berlin (Germany) and a Ph.D. from UCLA. She held postdoctoral positions at Brookhaven, Fermilab, and The Ohio State University before joining the faculty at of Illinois in 1995. El-Khadra is a fellow of the American Physical Society. She received a DOE Outstanding Junior Investigator Award, a Sloan Foundation Fellowship, and research and teaching awards from Illinois. El-Khadra is a theoretical particle physicist who focuses on the application of lattice Quantum Chromodynamics (also called the strong interactions) to phenomenologically interesting processes in flavor physics, which are relevant to the experimental effort at the so-called intensity frontier.


Daniela BortolettoDaniela Bortoletto was born in Italy. She graduated in Physics from the University of Pavia, Italy in 1982. She earned her MA (1986) and PhD (1989) from Syracuse University.

In 1989 she joined the Faculty of Purdue University as Postdoctoral Research Associate (1989-1992), Assistant Professor (1992-1995), Associate Professor (1995-2001), and Full Professor (2001).

She is now Edward M. Purcell Distinguished Professor of Physics and the chair of the national CUWiP committee.


Celia ElliotCelia Mathews Elliott is an academic at Physics Illinois. She has extensive experience in grant and proposal writing and funding of scientific research in academic institutions. She has taught principles of effective scientific and technical communications to advanced physics undergraduates and first-year graduate students since 2000. Prior to joining the Department of Physics, she worked as a technical editor for three international peer-reviewed physics journals, and she served as a part-time faculty member at Parkland College, teaching business management and business writing from 1981 to 1997.

Writing Workshop: “A Technical Writer’s Advice for Science Authors”

Being able to communicate effectively, in both oral and written form, is essential to your career success. Learning to write well will not only make you a more successful scientist, it will also make you a better scientist. Celia will present two writing strategies—full-sentence outlining and organizing by paragraphs—that you can use to make your papers clear, concise, and compelling. Celia will also share other tips to make writing easier, faster, and more effective.


Career Panel

  • Nicola Astley received her Bachelor of Science in Physics from the University of Birmingham, England and after a few years of doing research for Marconi Underwater Systems, she changed paths to focus on the emerging Hi Tech industry. Over the years she has worked for a variety of tech companies, from startups to corporations, web to mobile, including eBay and her current employer, Yahoo!. At Yahoo, Nicola provides Program Management and governance for the Consumer Product and Insights Group.
  • Felicia Martinez received her BS in physics from Illinois last year and is now working in the financial industry in Chicago.
  • Lauren McNeil Van Wassenhove received her BS in Engineering Physics from Illinois.  She completed her physics degree with the goal of developing new diagnostic devices for cancer and other diseases.  Since then, she has been working on her PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology, where she is studying metabolic alterations in breast cancer progression.  Lauren’s career goal is to work in a pharmaceutical company to develop new drugs for disease treatment.
  • Arlene Modeste Knowles is the Career & Diversity Programs Administrator for the American Physical Society Minority Bridge Program.
  • Tierney Smith received her BS in physics from Illinois. She holds a Master’s Degree in Education and now teaches high school physics and physical science in the Chicago Suburbs.

Undergraduate Research Panel

  • Kathy McCloud is an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) program director for the National Science Foundation.
  • Toni Pitts is the REU coordinator for the Department of Physics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
  • Cacey Stevens is a graduate student in the University of Chicago Department of Physics working with Professor Sidney Nagel, a soft condensed matter experimentalist. Her research focuses on developing a splashing threshold of low-viscosity liquid drop impact on smooth surfaces. She serves as graduate student coordinator of the Physics and MRSEC REU at the University of Chicago and is involved in education and outreach activities in the South Side Chicago community.
  • Elana Urbach is a student from the College of William and Mary who attended Physics Illinois’ REU Program Summer 2012.

Graduate School Panel

  • Hannah DeBerg graduated from the University of Arkansas in 2007 with a B.S. in physics and mathematics and an additional major in Spanish. She is now a graduate student at Illinois where she does biophysics research in Professor Paul Selvin’s lab.
  • Sue Larson is an Assistant Dean in the College of Engineering and the Director of the Women in Engineering program.  She is a tenured professor in the Department of Civil and Environmnental Engineering.  Prof. Larson earned an undergraduate degree in Physics (with a double major in German) at Washington University in St. Louis.  She used her Physics background to springboard into graduate studies in Environmental Engineering and Science at Caltech, where she earned her M.S. and Ph.D.
  • Naomi Makins is a professor of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, specializing in nuclear physics. She is the analysis coordinator for the HERMES experiment at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg, Germany.
  • Emily Sprague earned her dual bachelor’s degree in physics and piano performance at Illinois and is now an applied physics graduate student at Northwestern University.
  • Simona Rolli is a program manager at the DOE, in the Office of Science, Office of High Energy Physics. She is overseeing federally funded programs in theoretical particle physics and experimental particle physics, carried out at national labs and public and private universities. She moved to the DOE in March 2011, after a fifteen-year career in particle physics. She obtained her PhD in theoretical particle physics from the University of Pavia, Italy, in 1996 and spent most of her career at Fermilab, working on the Tevatron Collider CDF experiment as a research scientist on behalf of Tufts University. She was also part of the ATLAS Collaboration at the CERN Large Hadron Collider.