You are here

Women in Nuclear Science

7 March 2018
<p>Despite increases in female enrolment in both secondary and higher education, women remain underrepresented in <em>science, technology, engineering and mathematics</em>, commonly referred to as “STEM” subjects.</p>
<p>We know that seeing role models in these fields can help counter stereotypes and unconscious biases about what a nuclear scientist looks like. This International Women’s Day, some IAEA colleagues with STEM backgrounds shared their stories, hoping to inspire young women to pursue STEM careers.</p> 
<p>We asked them about how they got interested in their academic subjects, challenges or highlights in their careers, and what advice they would give to youth considering careers in STEM.</p><h3>Amparo Gonzales Espartero</h3>

<p><strong>Technical Lead, Spent Fuel Management</strong></p>

<p>I decided to pursue chemistry when I was around 14, eager to understand the chemical and physical laws that govern nature and life.</p>

<p>Dealing with radioactive material is not an easy task, but to work in science is both fascinating and challenging. Most of the time you are trying to solve issues and improve life or protect the planet. I would encourage young women to pursue their dreams and never give up no matter how much effort it takes. I think the secret is to be passionate about whichever subject you choose to pursue!</p>

<p><em>Pictured: In the plastic case, a uranium pellet replica. One uranium pellet contains the energy equivalent to 907 kg of coal.</em></p><h3>Meera Venkatesh</h3> 

<p><strong>Director, Division of Physical and Chemical Sciences</strong></p>

<p>I was always fascinated by math and physics, but it was my teachers who showed me how wonderful these subjects were. From my days in high school, I had no doubt that I wanted to become a mathematician or scientist. I really wanted to understand this magic world that held the secrets of life. College studies reinforced this interest, and here I am as a nuclear scientist with over 40 year of experience in the labs! </p>
<p>Math and science can be as beautiful and intriguing as arts and music. You need to taste the feeling of knowing "how" and "why" things work the way they do! So, young girls, do not miss out on this opportunity! Studying science will leave you feeling empowered and enriched! </p> 

<h3>Aliki Van Heek</h3> 

</p><strong>Unit Head, Energy, Economics and Environment Analysis</strong></p>

<p>I have a background in physics, but I wasn’t always good at it. In junior high school, I got bad grades, but when I got the opportunity to choose a topic for a science report in the 9th grade, I chose nuclear power. Digging into the topic, I got so interested that I decided to study applied physics at a technical university! </p>

<p>Perseverance is a much needed virtue! Be proactive and creative: I got myself a nice internship in Canada, just by writing a letter to the company, commenting on their nuclear communication material.</p> 

<p><em>Pictured: Supporting SDG 7 and 13, the IAEA assists countries in planning their energy future.</em></p><h3>Fatma Sarsu</h3> 

<p><strong>Plant Breeder and Geneticist</strong></p>

<p>I grew up on my father's farm. Watching him take care of his crops with so much love, enticed me to start working in agriculture. Studying crop and mutation breeding appeared to me as the fastest way to learn how to enhance crop productivity.</p>
<p>Working on plant breeding and genetics at the IAEA has given me an even larger farm to work on: improving crop productivity all over the world. Everyday, it gives me great pleasure to know that as a professional agricultural scientist, I work for the benefit of humanity.</p> 

<p><em>Pictured: Banana plantlets derived from irradiated plant material, the selection and breeding of which can help grow disease-resistant bananas. </em></p><h3>Laura Mcmanniman</h3> 

<p><strong>Spent Fuel Management Specialist</strong></p>

<p>I loved science at school; I was really interested in what made the world around me work. I didn’t know what I wanted to do career wise, so I picked up chemistry. I enjoyed it and it offered a wide array of professional opportunities.</p>
<p>Science subjects open lots of doors for many career options. Degree programmes that include work in industry are good choices as they let you experience "real life". This is how I finally decided pharmaceutical sciences were not for me and pursued a career in the nuclear industry.</p> 

<p><em>Pictured: Replica of graphite pebbles that contain thousands of micro-fuel particles. Used as fuel in pebble-bed reactors.</em></p><h3>Tatjana Jevremovic</h3> 

<p><strong>Team Leader, Water Reactor Technology Development</strong></p>

<p>When I was 11, I went to a bookstore and came across a book, entitled “Nuclear Engineering and Applications”. Admittedly, at that age, I didn't understand much. When I brought it home and read it, I made a decision that this is what I wanted to do.</p>
<p>From the time I started studying nuclear engineering until today, I have never regretted diving into this field. My career has taken me to Europe, Japan, the USA, and now the IAEA. Aspire to be whatever you desire, but know that being an engineer gives you a unique and effective way of thinking and solving problems.</p>

<p><em>Pictured: A CANDU reactor fuel assembly replica.</em></p>
<h3>Olga Vakula</h3> 

<p><strong>Associate Nuclear Information Officer</strong></p>

<p>I chose science because I grew up surrounded by scientists. The majority of my relatives and family friends are chemists or mathematicians by trade. Since childhood, I was always supported and encouraged by my parents to develop a strong interest in chemistry.</p>

<p>Choose wisely! Science, technology and engineering are our future. Don't be afraid of formulas and rules. Remember that you can always find a way to apply your creativity, imagination, and other talents in any scientific field.</p>

<p><em>Pictured: VVER-1000 reactor model.</em></p><h3>Loreta Stankeviciute</h3> 

<p><strong>Energy Systems Analyst</strong></p>

<p>Solving environmental issues, which often originate from the production of energy, is what motivated me to study environmental engineering. A multidisciplinary approach, which is needed to analyze these complex problems, led me to combine this with a doctorate in economics.</p>
<p>Climate change and other environmental issues will remain high on the agenda for the remaining part of this century. It requires scientists, engineers and economists to come together, and create innovative solutions. Take a moment and think where you fit best because you will be needed!</p> 

<p><em>Pictured: Nuclear science can play a significant role in climate change monitoring, mitigation and adaptation.</em></p><h3>Kim Baines</h3>

<p><strong>Environmental Remediation Specialist</strong></p>

 <p>When I was around 16, I had a fantastic chemistry teacher who made science really interesting and fun. We had a field trip to the Cavendish Laboratories in Cambridge, to learn about  particle physics. We also visited the CERN particle accelerator in Geneva. It was off-line, so we were able to take a tour in the tunnel and around the OPAL detector. I still have vivid memories of this trip and I still have the t-shirt!</p>

<p>Seek out people who are passionate about what they do. They will inspire and encourage you. Network and build relationships! People are a massive resource to help you achieve your goals and help you grow as a person.</p> 

<p><em>Pictured: An AP-1000 reactor vessel model.</em></p>

<h3>Ilse Berdellans Escobar</h3> 

<p><strong>Energy Systems Analyst</strong></p>

<p>I think engineering is one of the most interesting and rewarding professions. It's challenging, but can be applied to find solutions for various problems. I chose to focus on energy planning.</p>
<p>As the energy sector continues to undergo major changes, science and technology will play a crucial role in meeting rising demand for electricity. Society needs a new generation of young professionals committed to finding a solution to meet our global energy needs.</p>   

<p><em>Pictured: Ensuring access to reliable and sustainable energy is key to achieving all 17 SDGs. The IAEA assists Member States in developing energy strategies which may or may not include nuclear power. </em></p>
<h3>Galina Fesenko</h3> 

<p><strong>Nuclear Engineer, Long Term Planning</strong></p>

<p> I got interested in nuclear physics because I was enthralled by the beauty and logic of micro-phenomena and the possibility to apply its potential to everyday life. Discovery and the chance to share new findings with colleagues is what drives me every day. I can say that motivation should be key for everyone, especially the youth! </p>

<p> At the Obninsk Institute of Nuclear Power, my main area of research was on methods and tools for nuclear energy systems modelling. Now at the IAEA, I work on collaborative projects using dynamic simulations of national, regional and global nuclear energy systems.</p>

<p><em>Pictured: Core-spray system featured in VVER-1000 reactor model.</em></p><h3>Marija Sejmenova-Gichevska</h3>  
<p><strong> Nuclear Information Associate</strong></p>
<p>In school, I was passionate about math and science, so it was no surprise that I wanted to continue my higher education in engineering. I chose to study mechanical engineering with the notion that it would be a global, multidisciplinary engineering profession, offering a variety of opportunities for career development. I was right!</p> 

<p>I have never regretted my choice. I strongly believe that education is the most important aspect of one's personal growth, and continuous education should be a long term approach in life.</p> 

<p><em>Pictured: The Agency's International Nuclear Information System (INIS) hosts over 4.1 million records.</em></p>
<h3>Frances Marshall</h3> 

<p><strong>Nuclear Engineer</strong></p>

<p>I was always interested in math and science, but it was the problem solving in applied science that I loved most. I chose nuclear engineering because I was intrigued by the physics of fission and its potential to power the world.</p> 

<p>There has always been the challenge of overcoming the bias of what girls "cannot do"! Do not be dissuaded by what others think you can do, but demonstrate your capabilities. It’s good to have a plan, but always keep your mind open to new opportunities. Live your life and if it starts to feel that it’s not working for you anymore, seek change. </p>

<p><em>Pictured: Replica graphite from the world's first nuclear reactor, Chicago Pile-1.</em></p><h3>Sehila Gonzalez de Vicente</h3> 

<p><strong>Nuclear Fusion Physicist</strong></p>

<p>I always wanted to understand how nature worked: how light was produced, what atoms were, and how matter was built. Understanding these phenomena is key to innovation.</p>

<p>Be curious and follow your curiosity. Science and technology will introduce you to a world of challenges, where your contribution can have a direct impact on the lives of millions of people! This could be making new sources of energy possible, understanding bio-mechanisms to fight cancer, or creating new tools to improve lives.</p>  

<p><em>Pictured: In support of SDG 17, the IAEA works closely with ITER to foster fusion energy research. </em></p>

<h3>Adrienne Hanly</h3>
<p><strong>Uranium Resource Specialist</strong></p>
<p>I was working in a restaurant when I decided to take a night class in earth sciences. I found the class so interesting, I asked the professor what was required to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree. She inspired me to take the plunge and enroll in university full time to obtain my degree in Geological Sciences.</p> 
<p>Try different classes in science; some basic courses which won’t overwhelm or discourage you. This way, you can decide what subjects interest you the most. Ask professionals for their recommendations and seek mentors that can inspire you and provide guidance for your studies and career.<p>

<p><em>Pictured: Amethyst, a type of quartz, is purple due to naturally occurring radiation. </em></p>
<h3>Hadia Mahmoud</h3> 

<p><strong>Librarian, IAEA Library</strong></p>

<p>My choice to study nuclear engineering has turned out to be both challenging and rewarding. Days after the Fukushima Daiichi accident, my experience as a librarian with a nuclear engineering background proved to be useful to the IAEA's Incident and Emergency Centre. There were thousands of information updates from sources all over the world, that needed to be properly catalogued and classified. This was a 24/7 job, but I enjoyed it immensely.</p> 

<p>Persist in achieving your dreams, because the bigger the challenge, the more rewarding the outcome will be.</p>

<p><em>Pictured: The IAEA Library hosts over 1.3 million documents, technical reports, journals and books.</em></p>
<h3>Lee Kheng Heng</h3> 

<p><strong>Section Head, Soil and Water Management and Crop Nutrition</strong></p>

<p>I was always more inclined to deal with numbers, and preferred mathematics and physics to subjects which required a lot of memorization. I was passionate about studying agriculture and micro-meteorology. Now, at the IAEA, I use new technology and modelling techniques to improve food security and environmental sustainability.</p>

<p> Science and technology allow a deep understanding of the natural processes that shape the world we live in. Persevere and don't give up easily, you will find that it's well worth the effort to study science.</p>
<p><em>Pictured: A cosmic ray neutron sensor, a tool capable of measuring soil moisture up to 20 hectares.</em></p>
<h3>Erika Kancsar</h3>  

<p><strong>Associate Nuclear Information Officer</strong></p>

<p>I was always sure that I wanted to study science. When I was a young child, I wanted to become a medical doctor, but when we started to study physics at school, I knew that physics was the right topic for me. I guess I was lucky to have supporting parents and teachers who inspired and encouraged me to go for physics.<p>
<p>There are many job opportunities in the sciences, waiting for qualified women. I believe that gender equality can be reached one day!</p>

<p><em>Pictured: The Nuclear Technology Review, issued annually, reports on the global status and trends in the fields of nuclear science and technology.</em></p>

<h3>Giorgia Loreti</h3> 

<p><strong>Training Officer, Medical Physics</strong></p>

<p>I first heard of medical physics during a university seminar. I immediately knew that this was the career for me because it entailed applying physics principles to diagnosis and treatment. I could contribute to the daily functioning of a hospital and be of service to hundreds of people.</p>
<p> I encourage young people to learn more about medical physics and consider it as a possible career path. It has many different aspects, including research, quality management, and teaching. Above all, it’s an evolving profession that offers a chance to contribute to quality healthcare.</p>

<p><em>Pictured: A Roos chamber, used to perform dose measurements of electron beams in radiotherapy.</em></p>

Despite increases in female enrollment in both secondary and higher education, women remain underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, commonly referred to as “STEM” subjects.

We know that seeing role models in these fields can help to counter stereotypes and hidden biases about what a nuclear scientist looks like. This International Women’s Day, we decided to profile women at the IAEA’s Department of Nuclear Energy with STEM backgrounds to demonstrate women’s contributions to this field and inspire others to follow in their footsteps. We ask them about how they got interested in their academic subjects, challenges or highlights in their careers, and what advice they would give to youth considering careers in STEM.

Last update: 15 October 2018

Stay in touch