• English
  • العربية
  • 中文
  • Français
  • Русский
  • Español

You are here

IAEA Profile: How A Love of Physics Led to an International Career


The IAEA profiles women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to provide insight into career paths and to inspire and encourage readers, particularly women, to pursue careers in STEM. Read more profiles of IAEA women in STEM.

Growing up in small town in the Punjab in India, Dipti never anticipated that she might end up working for an international organization such as the IAEA in Vienna, or that she might pursue a career in the nuclear field.

“I didn’t know about these opportunities early on in my life,” she said. “My family are very supportive. However, I am the only person with a PhD in my family. My father is a businessman. My siblings work in other occupations.”

Nonetheless, from an early age, Dipti was fascinated by science. She chose science subjects for her undergraduate degree and studied physics for her master’s, becoming increasingly interested in physical phenomena. Her academic achievements and the encouragement of her master’s supervisor prompted her to apply for a Council of Scientific and Industrial Research National Eligibility Test (CSIR-NET) fellowship to study for a funded PhD at the prestigious institute IIT Roorkee in India. This took the form of a national test, in which Dipti competed against thousands of hopefuls to finish in the top 100. Her PhD was in atomic and plasma spectroscopy – research which would eventually lead to her current role at the IAEA.

Dipti found the study of spectroscopy illuminating. “Spectroscopy is all about the interaction of electromagnetic radiation with atoms and molecules and how we can use that as a major source of information to determine physical and chemical properties,” she explained.

“My research was about analyzing spectra which can help us understand the composition, density, and temperature of plasma environments. These can be used in diagnostics for nuclear fusion energy research, solar and stellar atmospheres, industrial uses or in developing semiconductors. For example, it can be used in industry to find promising candidates for the next generation of Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) radiation sources for lithography and subsequently making smaller computer chips,” she said.

Carrying out research in the field of spectroscopy came with significant challenges for Dipti. Theoretical physics is very focused on computational work, and Dipti had no access to her own computer until she started her PhD in 2011. However, she has made up for lost time by becoming an expert scientific programmer, and now specializes in creating and curating databases at the IAEA.

“A lot of my work now involves databases, new software and front-end development,” said Dipti.
“I have had to learn programming languages, having started working with computers at a later age. I started from scratch. I tell my niece, who is eleven years old, she should learn programming now, while she is still young.” 

I would say to other women, just follow your heart and believe in your abilities.

Since starting work at the IAEA in 2021, Dipti has split her time between the Department of Nuclear Applications and in Safeguards, in both departments honing her programming skills to create databases. She is currently based at the IAEA’s Department of Nuclear Science and Applications in the Atomic and Molecular Data (AMD) Unit, which is responsible for establishing and curating trusted databases used for fusion energy research – research which has the potential to significantly contribute to the world’s future clean energy transition. Dipti has worked with databases which include data on plasma collisional processes, plasma-wall interactions, and neutron interactions with fusion reactor component materials.

“In the Nuclear Data Section I worked on a database of plasma collisional data to be used in fusion energy research. I helped structure this database with metadata so it can become a comprehensive, trusted resource for use by the standards and nuclear fusion communities,” she said.

“For the Department of Safeguards, I created the interface to a database of the gamma ray spectra of uranium and plutonium isotopes. These spectra are characteristic of nuclear material and are used as a reference for IAEA safeguards inspectors as part of their verification activities. These spectra help inspectors ascertain uranium enrichment and identify the presence of plutonium; signs which could indicate the diversion of nuclear material away from peaceful uses.”

Empowering experience

Dipti has found working at the IAEA to be an empowering experience.  “I’ve been enabled to work quite independently on these projects,” she said. “In general, throughout my career I have felt very supported by my teachers, my PHD supervisor, and at work. A supportive work environment helps me to be productive.”

Another challenge Dipti has faced is adjusting to life in a new country, something she once thought she would never be able to do.

“During my PhD I was given the opportunity to attend a school at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Italy and I thought after that, that I wouldn’t be able to live in another country than India,” she said. “But then an opportunity to work at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the USA came along, and I decided I had to try and get out of my comfort zone, and to try it for one year. I ended up working abroad for seven years,”

Dipti admits to experiencing some culture shock on first arriving in Vienna. Now she keeps homesickness at bay by streaming cricket matches, especially those involving the Indian national cricket team, cooking her favourite dishes and attending potluck suppers with friends. She says she is glad she took a chance and overcame her fears to enjoy new challenges in her career and encourages other young women working in STEM to do the same.

“In India, there can be quite a traditional culture, but I would say to other women, just follow your heart and believe in your abilities. Take on challenges and see the potential, even if you feel apprehensive.

“To me, living in a different country is both challenging and exciting due to the diverse culture, opportunity to meet new people and learn from their perspectives, and enjoying different culinary traditions as well as rich art forms. To overcome the difficulties of residing in a foreign country, I prioritize regular communication with my family and friends, while occasionally visiting them.

“I recognize that managing personal and professional responsibilities and commitments may become more demanding in the future. However, I consider it crucial to address this aspect to maintain a healthy work-life balance.”

Dipti hopes to continue with research as she progresses through her career and is testament to the power of gender equality initiatives to create opportunities in STEM for women.

“I think initiatives such as expert opportunities, gender inclusivity in the workplace, workshops tailored to women, and networks such as the IAEA’s Women in Fusion, can help enable more women to pursue a career in the nuclear field,” she said.

The IAEA’s commitment to gender equality

In 2020, the IAEA launched the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme (MSCFP) to support the next generation of women nuclear professionals by offering scholarships for master’s degree in nuclear-related fields. A new IAEA initiative launched in March this year, the Lise Meitner Programme, offers early- and mid-career women multiweek training visits to nuclear facilities.  

The IAEA strives to increase the representation of women, both in the nuclear field and in the IAEA. The Agency is committed to achieve gender parity – 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women – in the professional and higher categories by 2025.

Read more about the IAEA’s work on gender equality, and apply for vacancies, internships or pipelines

Stay in touch