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Female Researchers in the Spotlight for Physics Ladies Day

On Friday 28 October, Leiden University organized its annual Physics Ladies Day for female high school students. To mark this festive day, we put the spotlight on four female researchers, who talk about their experiences in physics.

Irene Battisti, Phd student Experimental Physics

‘As a kid, I really liked mathematics, and science in general. In school I found out that you can actually apply mathematics to science, to solve physics problems. I think it is really cool to understand things, and the equations behind it. That is why I studied Physics.

‘During my studies, I liked solid state physics the most. This subject studies how electrons move through materials, following the laws of quantum mechanics. I enjoyed the friendly atmosphere in general. Things are very informal. When I was done with my master’s, I figured I could still have lots of fun with Physics, so I decided to pursue a PhD.

‘I came to Leiden for my PhD research because I wanted to work in an international environment. I like to get in touch with people from different places around the globe. I think it really opens up your mind. Leiden is very international and it is easy to be a foreigner here. Dutch people speak English very well and they are open to other cultures.

‘In Leiden I currently work with an electron microscope, which we named Tamagotchi. We use it to see atoms on surfaces of weird quantum materials and to understand how electrons behave inside these materials. The research I am doing in Leiden is more experimental than at my previous university in Padova, and I found out that I really enjoy working in the lab. Doing research in physics taught me how to tackle a problem in order to solve it in the best way. This skill is very useful also outside the lab.'

Kirsten Martens, Phd student Biophysics

‘What I like most about Physics is trying to get insight into nature by solving problems. That takes a lot of thinking, calculating and experimenting, but it gives much satisfaction once you finally reach a solution and understand the problem.

‘I arrived at my PhD position through an alternative route. When I was a kid I got interested in the natural sciences. Astronomy, cosmology and the evolution of and on the Earth fascinated me so much that I chose to go study Astrophysics. In the meantime, I switched to Chemistry because those subjects attracted me more. Through my master’s internships I finally ended up in my current job in biophysics.

‘In high school Physics and Chemistry seem to be nothing like one another, but that is far from the truth. Many processes in Physics are also studied by chemists, only from a different perspective.

‘In my research I study interactions between DNA and proteins. Using extremely sensitive devices I detect each particle individually. That way I can map out all possible interactions. Those particles are biological molecules, like proteins and DNA. This may sound like biological or medical research, but a major part of my research is optimizing and improving physical, optical and sometimes chemical techniques.’

Daniela Kraft, Associate Professor Soft Matter Physics

‘I chose to study Physics because I wanted to understand how the world works. Physics seemed to be the best option for that. It addresses the foundations of nature. Physicists describe our world in models that are only as complex as they need to be, and no more than that. I like this way of thinking and doing research. We keep it as simple as possible and look for the essence. Given the complexity of the world, I find it fascinating that we understand it so well with an often simple model.

‘During my studies, I enjoyed working together with my classmates on sums and maths puzzles. I liked the feeling of a community of physicists amongst each other. I love sharing my passion for physics.

‘Now I have my own research group in Leiden. We study small particles that are large enough to see with a microscope, but small enough so they keep moving on their own. We use those particles to study complex processes in an easier way. That way we find out what the essential ingredients are to obtain a certain structure or behavior. We use those insights to build new and useful structures. In the future, we might even build tiny medical robots.’

Babette de Jong, PhD student Biophysics

‘I discovered my passion for Physics when I was actually studying something else: Biomedical Sciences. I specialized in super-resolution microscopy and developed a keen interest for the physical part of that. After my master’s I decided to expand my experience with Physics even further and applied for a PhD in Biophysics in Leiden.

‘The best part of my research is that the questions we ask are a mix of Physics, Biology and Chemistry. The variety makes my work very interesting and satisfactory to me. It’s really fun to learn to look at a problem from different perspectives. There is always something new to learn or to try and solve. I really like the fact that our group consists of people from different countries and with different academic backgrounds. This also benefits the progress of our work.

‘We study how proteins are able to read our DNA. We are one of the first groups to research a specific aspect of this, which makes my project both very interesting and challenging. So my research is not only an opportunity for me to learn new things, but also to make actual new discoveries.’



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