Barry McNamara  |  Published January 27, 2023

Women in Physics

Monmouth students have ‘eye-opening’ experience at conference at Argonne National Laboratory.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Prior to departing campus to attend one of several Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics held around the nation, Monmouth College physics professor Chris Fasano commented on what was in store for the eight students who traveled with him.

“This is an excellent opportunity for them to learn some interesting new physics, to meet other women in physics, and to learn about what they can do with physics as professionals,” he said.

WOMEN IN PHYSICS: Eight Monmouth students made the trip to the conference, which was held Jan. 20... WOMEN IN PHYSICS: Eight Monmouth students made the trip to the conference, which was held Jan. 20-23.Two of those students, Bronte De Zwart ’25 of Ridleyton, Australia, and Noelle Faulk ’25 of Elmhurst, Illinois, said that was exactly the case at the conference, which was held Jan. 20-23 at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois.

“It was awesome to meet other women in physics – both students and professionals – because everyone was at a different stage in their career but still seemed to share a similar story of being ignored, not taken as seriously, or being belittled in the field,” said Faulk. “I think it created a sense of unity among all the women in attendance and was reassuring to know that there are extremely successful women in the field who have overcome these obstacles.”

Faulk referenced a presentation that showed very slow growth for women in the fields of engineering and physics over a span from 1985-2018.

“It was awesome to meet other women in physics – both students and professionals – because everyone was at a different stage in their career but still seemed to share a similar story of being ignored, not taken as seriously, or being belittled in the field.” Noelle Faulk

“Among STEM majors, both engineering and physics were about tied for last and had only grown about 5-6% over those 33 years,” she said. “I thought this was pretty eye-opening and demonstrated that we need to encourage more women to join these fields.”

As is typically the case with conference settings, making connections was a major highlight, said De Zwart.

“It was nice to connect with people with similar interests and experiences,” she said. “We spoke about ways in which we can support our peers through the rigors of studying physics. One of which was that we should be more vocal about our struggles with each other, so that others don’t feel like the only ones struggling with a particular task or concept.”

Reaching for the stars

And make no mistake – it’s not uncommon to struggle with concepts in the challenging field of physics. Among the variety of interesting talks at the conference were sessions on black holes and the expansion of the universe.

“The research that I was most intrigued by was Professor Wendy L. Freedman’s work on the measurement of the Hubble Constant,” said De Zwart. “She and her colleagues are attempting to use different observational methods, such as Cepheid variables and cosmic microwave background. She theorizes that if such methods cannot agree, we may be missing crucial physics regarding the expansion of the universe – which is both scary and exciting to think about.”

AT THE CONFERENCE: Several of the Monmouth students are pictured at the event, which was held at ... AT THE CONFERENCE: Several of the Monmouth students are pictured at the event, which was held at Argonne National Laboratory.Faulk also found herself intrigued by an outer-space phenomenon.

“One of the most interesting poster presentations I saw was about how when two black holes get close enough to each other, they start spinning around and toward each other and create a ton of energy, and within a second they get close enough to become one black hole and immediately stop emitting all that energy,” she said.

Inspiring plans

Faulk figures to bring her pursuit a physics back to Earth, as her interest lies in mechanical engineering.

“I hope to incorporate sustainability into that in my professional career,” she said. “I think this conference helped me to realize that there are many different paths that you could choose in the physics field.”

De Zwart has a passion for both physics and mathematics, which she may apply to a career in computational physics, but the conference also helped her realize another crucial tool for scientists: communication.

“One of the panels was titled ‘Science Communication 101,’” she said. “It discussed techniques for presenting our research in a way that is accessible to everyone, such as replacing jargon with alternative vocabulary and using analogies. I believe this is a crucial skill that should be studied at college.”

The six other Monmouth students who attended the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics were Stephanie Bradbury ’25 of Lyons, Illinois, Tori Cook ’23 of Joliet, Illinois, Natalie King ’24 of North Henderson, Illinois, Zoie Kruse ’24 of Rochester, Minnesota, Talia Long ’23 of Troy, Missouri, and Gianna Maughan ’25 of Oak Lawn, Illinois.

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