UC Santa Cruz hosts conference for undergraduate women in physics


Members of the conference organizing committee include (left to right): Tesla Jeltema, Amitta Kuttner, Brendan Wells, Tanmayi Sai, Maxwell Baugh, Regina Caputo, Emma Storm, Lydia Seymour, Katie Hellier, Y. Katherina Feng, Tiffany Hsyu, Caitlin Johnson, and Camille Leibler. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

Undergraduate women interested in physics are coming to UC Santa Cruz from colleges and universities throughout the western United States and Canada for the 10th annual Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics, January 16 to 18.

Organizers expect 250 students to attend the three-day conference, where they will learn about graduate school and career opportunities in physics and network with other female physicists. Hosted by the UCSC Department of Physics, the Santa Cruz event is one of eight regional conferences across the nation organized by the American Physical Society.

"UC Santa Cruz is by far the biggest regional conference this year. We had more applicants than we could accommodate and had to redirect some to other sites," said Tesla Jeltema, assistant professor of physics and faculty chair of the organizing committee for the conference at UC Santa Cruz.

Jeltema said students are coming from as far away as Alaska, Hawaii, and British Columbia to attend the conference. "One of the goals is to expose them to the range of careers that a physics degree is useful for," she said. "They'll hear from successful women in physics and find out what they're doing and how they got where they are."

Angie Wolfgang, a UCSC graduate student in astronomy and astrophysics who helped organize the conference, said the opportunity to meet a lot of other women who are interested in physics is one of the most important aspects of the conference, because the number of women studying physics is relatively small at most institutions.

"It's an awesome experience to be surrounded by other women who are excited about physics and are doing interesting research," Wolfgang said. "There will be talks by industry professionals and other female physicists who can provide career advice and serve as inspirational role models."

Making connections

In addition to talks by senior physicists, most of the conference will involve workshops and small group activities, as well as lab tours and opportunities for students to present their own research. A number of activities are designed to get participants to meet and talk to as many people as possible. "We hope they'll make lots of connections and keep in touch after the meeting," Jeltema said.

Paul Koch, dean of physical and biological sciences, will welcome the attendees on Saturday morning and talk about ongoing efforts at UC Santa Cruz to support diversity and inclusion.

Katie Hellier, who earned her physics degree at UCSC in 2014 and is currently a lab manager for UCSC physics professor Sue Carter, led a large group of undergraduate and graduate students who have been working for several months to organize the conference. In addition to Jeltema and Hellier, the local organizing committee includes physics professor Michael Dine; graduate students Emma Storm, Angie Wolfgang, Brendan Wells, Devon Hollowood, Caitlin Johnson, Amitta Kutner, Kat Feng, Tiffany Hsyu, and Camille Leibler; undergraduates Tanmayi Sai, Monique Windju, Athena Gallagos, Sophia Rocco, Sydney Weiser, and Lydia Seymour; postdoctoral researcher Regina Caputo; and staff members Sissy Madden and Mykell Discipulo.

This is the second time UC Santa Cruz has hosted one of the regional conferences. The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy provide funding for the conferences through the American Physical Society. Most of the funding for hosting the event, however, has come from campus sources and private donations. Campus sponsors include the Division of Physical and Biological Sciences, Graduate Division, Physics Department, Astronomy and Astrophysics Department, and Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Other sponsors include the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, UCSC Science Internship Program, and Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics.