20th Women in Physics Conference

Experiencing research, questioning stereotypes

November 16, 2016

What are the current questions in research? What are women physicists investigating? Are the strategies for the promotion of women still up to date? The 20th Women in Physics Conference, where female physicists from all career levels met on Campus Bahrenfeld, was marked by scientific and sociopolitical discussions.

Hosted by the German Physical Society (DPG) and their associated working group on equal opportunities, the annual forum has been taking place since 1997. The anniversary event in Hamburg, which took place under the patronage of Federal Minister of Education and Research Prof. Dr. Johanna Wanka, has been organized by the Department of Physics of the Universität Hamburg and the cluster of excellence “The Hamburg Centre for Ultrafast Imaging” (CUI).

We will need the valuable contributions of women

“The anniversary is a nice occasion for looking back at the last two decades’ road to success,” the Minister had said in her previously published greeting. “During that period many women have been thrilled about physics. I’d like this dynamics to continue. Physics is an important basis for technological developments and thus for economical progress in our country. Also in the future we will need the valuable contributions of women for pushing innovation processes.” Moreover, Wanka praised the conference’s idea in a video message and emphasized the ideal location at DESY on the Hamburg-Bahrenfeld campus.

Almost 250 women had registered for this year’s conference from 3–6 November 2016. Vice President of the Universität Hamburg, Prof. Jan Louis, and DPG President Rolf-Dieter Heuer spoke at the opening: “You really wanted to go for the conference, and that was quite noticeable,” Heuer appreciated the organizing team’s active application. Amid the applause of the audience he furthermore stressed his appreciation for the open-mindedness to be felt in Hamburg.

Balance between basic knowledge and specialized know-how

The scientific opening talk was given by Prof. Petra Rudolf from the University of Groningen, who stroke a fine balance between scientific basic knowledge and highly specialized know-how. Numerous questions were an early foretaste of a vivid conference, which was used by young female physicists, in particular, for presenting their research, meeting renowned women scientists, and networking. “It was great to see, what kind of a platform our conference could offer to the physicists to discuss their topics in an open and relaxed atmosphere,” said Max Planck Research Group leader PD Dr. Melanie Schnell, who is a member of the CUI board.

Paths towards gender equality: supporting measures, Code of Coduct, critical mass

This proved to be true in the fully occupied auditorium, where a panel discussed paths towards gender equality in natural sciences. Hamburg’s Senator of Science, Research and Equality, Katharina Fegebank, even stayed longer than previously planned, to further participate in the discussion. She had defined insecure career paths as a problem that is already being addressed from the political side – for example via a Code of Conduct. Furthermore, the participants stressed the importance of offering an early mix of supporting measures, reducing stereotypes and creating a critical mass – so that women in natural sciences are no longer a minority.

The conference was supported by the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) and the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter, as well as the Collaborative Research Centers 676, 925 and PIER, the strategic partnership of DESY and the Universität Hamburg.

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