Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics

California Institute of Technology



Keynote Speaker: Margaret Murnane

Why Diverse Teams will Meet the Science and Engineering Challenges of the 21st Century

Award-winning physicist Margaret Murnane began her journey to becoming a world-renowned expert on ultrafast lasers in the countryside of Midwest Ireland. Her father, an elementary school teacher, loved science and used to reward his young daughter with chocolates or a new science book from the library when she solved math puzzles. When she was 8, one of those books, with an illustration of Archimedes in the bathtub, kindled a lifelong desire to learn about the world by observing it. She reveled in her high-school physics class, even though “it was my worst subject.”

Undeterred, she attended University College Cork (Ireland), earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in physics. Her university courses were academically challenging, but fascinating. She graduated hooked on the idea of having a career in physics, even though it meant leaving Ireland to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley. Murnane did her thesis work building an ultrashort-pulse laser in Roger Falcone’s laboratory. It took her a year to build the laser, another six months to refine and characterize it, and two years to demonstrate that it could generate fast x-ray pulses. Murnane graduated in 1989 and a year later received the American Physical Society’s (APS’s) Simon Ramo Award for her thesis.

During her graduate studies, Murnane met fellow student Henry Kapteyn, who became her husband in 1988 and a life-long collaborator. In 1990, the couple moved to Washington State University, where they set up a joint laboratory dedicated to the fast-moving and competitive field of ultrafast laser science.

Local Speakers

Dr. Regina E. Dugan

Do Epic Sh*t... Scientists and Engineers Change the World

Abstract: Scientists and engineers change the world. They defy the impossible and refuse to fear failure. What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? You would do epic sh*t, of course. It all begins at the intersection of a scientific inflection point and a driving application. Innovation is about building new, amazing things. It's exhilarating.

Biography: Dr. Regina E. Dugan is senior vice president of the Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group for Motorola Mobility. She is responsible for building and leading the skunkworks-inspired team delivering breakthrough innovations.

Dr. Dugan was most recently the Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the principal agency within the Department of Defense for research, development and demonstration of high-risk, high-payoff capabilities for the current and future combat force. Among DARPA’s long list of breakthrough achievements are the Internet, GPS and M-16 rifle. She first served at DARPA as a program manager from 1996 to 2000, where she was named DARPA PM of the year in 1999, and was awarded the prestigious Bronze deFleury medal by the Army Engineer Regiment in 2000.

Prior to her appointment as Director of DARPA, Dr. Dugan co-founded a niche investment firm, where she served as President and CEO; she has served as founder and senior executive in several commercial companies with diverse products.

Widely recognized for her leadership in innovation and technology development, Dr. Dugan has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Prism, Forbes, Fast Company and Science News, among others; and has delivered keynote remarks at events as diverse as TED, All Things Digital (D9), and FORTUNE Most Powerful Women Summit. In 2011, she was named a Tech Titan by Washingtonian Magazine.

Dr. Dugan obtained her doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology and her master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Virginia Tech. She is co-author of Engineering Thermodynamics, 1996, and a sole inventor or co-inventor on multiple patents and patents pending.


Dr. Denise Caldwell

Dr. Caldwell is the Acting Division Director for the Physics Division at the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Physics Division is that unit within the NSF that provides financial support for funding within the US of basic experimental and theoretical research in six areas of physics: biological physics, gravitational physics, elementary particle physics, nuclear physics, atomic, molecular and optical physics, and particle astrophysics. The Division currently awards approximately $270 M in research funding each year, divided into support for individual research groups, centers, and facilities.

Dr. Caldwell received a Ph.D. degree in Physics, with emphasis in atomic and molecular physics, from Columbia University in 1976. She completed a postdoctoral appointment at the University of Bielefeld in Germany, then served on the faculty of the Physics Department at Yale University before moving to the University of Central Florida in 1985. At Yale she began a research program, funded by the NSF, on atomic photoionization with synchrotron radiation, which she continued at Florida. In 1995 she came to the NSF on temporary assignment from the University of Central Florida, where she was a Professor of Physics. She later became a permanent NSF employee in 1998. She has published over 60 papers in peer-reviewed journals and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Between 1995 and 2006 Dr. Caldwell served as Program Director in the Physics Division with responsibility for three programs, Atomic, Molecular, Optical and Plasma Physics (AMOP), Biological Physics (BP), and Physics Frontiers Centers (PFC), the latter two which she created within the Division. As Program Director she had responsibility for a broad range of scientific research, extending from fundamental studies in the various disciplines through the Physics Frontiers Centers program to research in Quantum Information Science. She has also participated in a number of major NSF-wide initiatives, including the Optical Science and Engineering program, the Nanoscale Science and Engineering program, and the Information Technology Research program. She continues to be active in a number of NSF multi-disciplinary activities and until September, 2012, to hold oversight responsibility for the ten Physics Frontiers Centers.

In 2006 Dr. Caldwell was appointed as Deputy Division Director of the Physics Division In this position she assisted in management supervision for all operations of the Physics Division. In September 2012 she was appointed Acting Division Director for the Physics Division. In this role she is the recognized head of the Division within the US physics community. It is her responsibility to direct the overall management and operations of the Division as well as represent the Division to the community and the community to the NSF.

Dr. Rosaly Lopes

Dr. Rosaly Lopes's research interest focus on analyzing remote sensing data to better understand solar system surface processes, particularily volcanic and cryovolcanic processes on Io and Titan. She is currently a manager (act.) and a deputy section manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories operated by Caltech. In her decade working at JPL, she has functioned as the Principle Investigator for the Cassini Data Analysis Program, a co-investigator on 4 instrument proposals for the Europa Jupiter System Mission, and much more. In addition to research, she is active in the media and outreach, having written four books: The Volcano Adventure Guide,Volcanic Worlds: Exploring the Solar System Volcanoes , Io After Galileo: a New View of Jupiter's Volcanic Moon, and Alien Volancoes. Originally born in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, she recieved her Ph.D. in Planetary Science and B.Sc. with honors in Astronomy from the University College, University of London, UK. Her numerous awards include the Wings WorldQuest: Women of Discovery Award (2009), Girl Scouts of America WINGS (Women Inspiring Next Generations) Award (2007), Women at Work Medal of Excellence (2006), the Carl Sagan Medal (2005), and the GEMS Women of the Year in Science and Technology (1997).

Dr. Judy Cohen

40 Years of Adventures as a Woman in Astrophysics

Judith Cohen, the Kate Van Nuys Page Professor of Astronomy at Caltech, is currently completing a large survey of extremely metal poor stars in the halo of our galaxy. These are among the oldest stars in the Galaxy, and represent the local equivalent of the high redshift universe. The goal is to isolate a new, large sample of stars with extremely low metallicities using a new sample of candidates from the Hamburg/ESO Stellar Survey (HES). The most metal deficient stars in the Galaxy provide critical evidence on the early epochs of our Galaxy, the onset of chemical evolution of the Galaxy, the possible stellar sources which produced many elements at very early epochs (very massive stars and SNII), the age of the Galaxy, the relationship between the halo field stars and the galactic globular clusters, the possible role of the stars that formed the first generation of metals in re-ionizing the Universe, etc.

Prior to this, she was the head of the Caltech Faint Galaxy Redshift Survey team, a small group dedicated to exploring the properties of faint field galaxies to redshift 1 and beyond. This effort was her dominant research interest from about 1998 to 2002, and arose from a desire to utilize the Low Resolution Imaging Spectrograph, one of the three first light instruments now installed and working on the Keck telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Bev Oke, now retired, and Judy designed and built the spectrograph over 5 years, and she, with the help of a talented team of engineers, tuned it up to its optimum potential. Judith Cohen is also continuing to work in the area of the abundances of stars in the galactic globular clusters, the star-to-star differences of such seen among the light elements C, N, O, Na, Al and Mg, in particular.Recently she has become the leader of a small group trying to use the Palomar Transient Factory to study the Galactic halo. The initial emphasis will be on finding RR Lyrae variables (the work of postdoctoral fellow Branimir Sesar) far out in the halo.

Dr. Nai-Chang Yeh

Dr. Nai-Chang Yeh is a professor of physics at Caltech specializing in experimental condensed matter physcs. Her research focuses on the fundemental physical properties of strongly correlated electronic systems, and she is best known for her work on a variety of superconductors, magnetic materials, and superconductor/ ferromagnet heterostructures.

Dr. Yeh grew up in Taiwan and recieved her bachelor's degree from National Taiwan University. Afterward, she obtained her PhD in physics from MIT. She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2007) and the American Physical Society (2004). Her numerous awards include the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Department of Physics, National Taiwan University (2003), Fellow and Chartered Physics from the Institute of Physics, UK (2001), the Achievement Award from the Chinese-American Faculty Association, Southern California (2001), the Outstanding Young Researcher Award from the Overseas Chinese Physics Association (1998), the David and Lucile Packard Fellow for Science and Engineering (1992-1997), and a Sloan Research Fellow (1990-1992).


Dr. John Preskill

Putting Weirdness to work: Quantum Information Science

John Preskill is the Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology, and co-Director of Caltech's Institute for Quantum Information and Matter. Preskill received his Ph.D. in physics in 1980 from Harvard, joined the Harvard faculty in 1981, and moved to Caltech in 1983. Until the mid-1990s, Preskill’s research focused on elementary particles, cosmology, and gravitation; since then his research has focused primarily on quantum computation and quantum information science. A two-time recipient of the Associated Students of Caltech Teaching Award, Preskill has mentored more than 45 Ph.D. students and more than 35 postdoctoral scholars at Caltech, many of whom are now leaders in their research areas.


The PhD Movie Cast


Dr. Jorge Cham

Jorge Cham is known for his PhD Comics and directing The PhD Movie based on his comics, both of which highlight the life of an academic. He recieved his Bachelor's degree from Georgia Tech in 1997, and his PhD in mechanical engineering from Stanford, where he began working on his comics. He also spend time as an instructor and as a researcher on neural prosthetics at Caltech.




Alex Lockwood

Alex Lockwood is in her final year of her PhD in planetary science at Caltech, after receiving her Master's in 2010. She got a Bachelor's degree in physics and astronomy from the University of Maryland in 2007. In addition to research, Alex likes to run half marathons and practice yoga, while also being involved in graduate and undergraduate student life on campus. She hopes to pursue science education outreach when she graduates.


Crystal Dilworth

Crystal Dilworth completed her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at UC San Diego in 2006, and she is currently working on her Ph.D. in Molecular Neuroscience in the lab of Henry A. Lester at Caltech. Crystal is a violinist, a former competitive Rhythmic Gymnast, a former professional modern dancer and choreographer, and an active member of the Caltech theater community. As a member of the PHD Comics team, she enjoys exploring the experiences of graduate students around the country, and the unique opportunity to communicate the amazing ideas extant in the academic world through visual media. She hopes to continue to combine her love of science and the performing arts in her future career.