International Conference on Women in Physics 2014

23 October 2014

The laws of physics are gender-neutral and the beauty of the universe is accessible to everyone; yet there are still relatively few women in physics – and the higher up the ladder in academia and industry you go, the fewer women you find.

ICWP 2014

Women in physics tend to be outnumbered by men nearly all over the world. For four days in early August, however, it didn’t feel that way when hundreds of women from over 50 countries gathered at the Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada.

These women were selected to represent their countries at the 5th International Conference on Women in Physics (ICWIP). Dr Eilish McLoughlin (Team Leader), DCU School of Physical Sciences, and Sandra Fee, Physics teacher (Ardee Community School) and Education Dept NUIM, were delighted to represent Ireland this year.

The conference is held every three years, with the four previous editions taking place in Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Seoul, and Stellenbosch, South Africa. Delegates presented posters about the status of women in physics in their countries and participated in workshops in five areas: gender studies, physics education, culture and ethics, professional development and improving the workplace. The results from these workshops will be presented to the IUPAP general assembly later this year.

The conference opened with an inspiring lecture by astronomer Jill Tarter. Melissa Franklin, who was part of the team that discovered the Higgs boson, and Patience Mthunzi, the first female in South Africa to qualify for a PhD in physics, were among the distinguished plenary speakers presenting at the conference.

A key aspect of this conference was the exchange of scientific endeavour and research being conducted by the women physicists. Eilish McLoughlin presented a talk and a poster on her research in physics education on the topic “teaching , learning and assessing inquiry-based science education”, and contributed to a rich discussion on gender bias in physics education across all levels.

This year the conference featured a new initiative, My STEM Story, which encouraged women physicists to share their experiences online in the form of personal stories, essays, pictures and videos. Sandra Fee from the Irish team contributed a wonderful poem to this new initiative. “It was wonderful to meet female physicists from all over the world, discussing their life’s work within the physics arena,” Sandra said. “By the end of the conference, we were all highly motivated, excited and inspired, and came away with a renewed sense of pride in our involvement in physics.”