10 Questions with Ana Isabel Maldonado Cid
Ana Isabel Maldonado Cid, 30, from Spain, worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the Max Planck Institutes in Stuttgart (Germany) and the University of St Andrews (Scotland, UK) and has recently moved to Institut Néel of CNRS in Grenoble (France) for doing a second postdoctoral stay to expand her research experience.
Her research deals with studying the properties of matter at the nanometer scale and at very low temperatures.
Ana Isabel is a participant of the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting which is dedicated to the field of physics in 2016.
Enjoy the interview with Ana Isabel and get inspired:
- What inspired you to pursue a career in physics / STEM?
I have always been motivated to do research in physics, as since I was a student I wanted to understand deeply the nature of many physical phenomena and also to learn how to deal with and solve scientific problems. Pursuing a career in physics, offered me this opportunity, so for that reason I decided to get enrolled in a PhD and, later on, to work as a postdoctoral researcher.
- Who are your role models?
These are indeed the people that are self-motivated and enthusiast to do research. This, of course, includes Nobel Laureates and excellent scientists I have had the pleasure to meet during my research experience, who have motivated me and supported to pursue my career. I am and I will always be very thankful for it.
- How did you get to where you are in your career path?
If I am where I am is thanks to many people. When I finished my degree in Physics I was not sure about what to do next and it was because the good advice of Prof. Jacobo Santamaría of Universidad Complutense de Madrid that I decided to enrol in a Ph. D in the group of Profs. Sebastián Vieira and Hermann Suderow of Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in the field of scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) at very low temperatures. I will always acknowledge him very much for guiding me through this important decision. Of course, I will always be extremely thankful with my two Ph. D thesis supervisors, Profs. Sebastián Vieira and Hermann Suderow. I strongly acknowledge all their support and patience with my every day work as a Ph D student. As both of them are very hard workers, they motivated me to always aspire to do my research activities as best as I could and they gave me the opportunity to develop my own ideas in a research project. For this I will always be extremely acknowledged.
At the end of and after my Ph. D, I had a very intense experience working abroad and that could be possible thanks to many people. I strongly acknowledge Dr. Peter Wahl for giving me the opportunity to work as a postdoctoral researcher in his team both at Max Planck Institute of Stuttgart and in the University of St Andrews, where I consolidated my research experience in the same field of my Ph. D and I learned how to move a laboratory and to set up a new experimental facility of ultra-low vibrations unique in the United Kingdom. I am also very thankful with Dr. Eddy Collin for giving me afterwards the opportunity to expand my research experience at Institut Néel of the CNRS of Grenoble in nanofabrication techniques in clean room environment, where I am currently working.
Living for the past three years abroad and in three different European countries has made me grow up as a person and it has given me the pleasure to meet and work with many excellent scientists, expanding a lot my network of collaborators. Of course, despite I have always had to face many obstacles, both in science and in life, knowing how my family is proud of what I have achieved so far, it worthies and compensates all these difficulties. To them I owe all what I am now.
- What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
In my opinion, the coolest project I have worked on so far it was the main one of my Ph D, as allowed me to develop a technique to visualize superconducting vortices with the STM under the simultaneous application of an electric current. This was extremely challenging for the technical difficulties that involved; but, on the other hand, it was very exciting because it has relevant technological applications. Visualizing and understanding how superconducting vortices move under the action of a current is very important to develop ways to reduce or stop this motion. This would bring a new generation of materials which could potentially be used for creating high magnetic field environments without power loses, such as in particle accelerators (CERN) or in nuclear magnetic resonance imaging instruments for biomedical purposes. Thus, in my opinion, these would bring a lot of benefits for the society.
- What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself / your work?
It has occurred to me twice, in my PhD and in my first postdoctoral stay. In the former, it was when I could visualize for first time the superconducting vortices in the prototypical compound NbSe2, which have a six-fold star shape and, thus, it’s very impressive when you can visualize them after working for few years in the set up the instrument to do so. I will always remember the morning I went to the lab to check the measurements I left over that night and I could see these beautiful images.
The other time was during my first postdoc, when I could cleave in-situ for first time a single crystal of UPt3, which is a very hard material, and perform the first scanning tunneling microscopy/spectroscopy measurements. It took me almost a year to achieve it, but observing the atomic lattice of this compound just when approaching the tip of the STM on top of the surface of the sample was very exciting.
- What is a “day in the life” of Ana Isabel like?
I think it might be very common among postdoctoral researchers: go to work in the morning and come back home in the evening. Thus, nothing special. Perhaps it is worthy to mention that, as I am now working in a clean-room at CNRS, I need to organize my activities in advance, as I need to book time to use certain instruments. So, generally, I know what I have to do each day, as I organize my week in advance. A very nice point of working here is that I always have lunch with the other group members, which is always an excellent opportunity to discuss how the different projects are going.
- What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?
It’s a bit difficult to say right now, but, at least I hope to get more stability soon. I would like to continue working in research, but settled in just one place and of course, if possible, in Spain, my home country.
- What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?
I like to do many other things in my free time. I enjoy a lot travelling and visiting new places. I love cultural activities, such as visiting exhibitions, museums, going to the cinema, to the theatre, to concerts, etc. I also like to go shopping very much and to meet with friends for a coffee or a dinner. When I have the opportunity, I also like to do some sport activities, mainly the ones shared with other people, like classes of pilates or yoga.
- What advice do you have for other women interested in physics / STEM?
I fully support them. I believe that women can do in physics as good as men and I think that an equal proportion of gender in physics will benefit everyone. I would, thus, encourage them to study and do research in physics and to support other women to do so, which is extremely important too.
- In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physics research?
From my point of view, the next important breakthrough in physics research will be in general to apply the fundamental aspects that are and will be discovered in the research institutions to the industry or real life. I think this is something we still need to work hard on, as then the society will be more aware about the importance of scientific research and, in particular, the one done in physics.
Regarding the more, let’s say, “fundamental” aspects of the research, in my opinion, the experimental realization of the quantum computer, is one of the important breakthroughs in physics research that I am looking forward to. However, as I said above, never forgetting, once achieved, to transfer it to the general public as soon as possible.
What should be done to increase the number of female profs of physics?
This is a quite difficult question, as the system in which a person can reach the professorship is quite different depending on the particular country. In my case I will focus on Spain, my home country, where I believe that in order to increase the number of female professors in physics, the system should change quite a lot. As it is right now, it is very difficult to reach a permanent position in a short time, making it very challenging for a woman to conceal her professional and personal life. Thus, changing the system in the way that researchers would get earlier a stable professional situation, would definitely increase the proportion of women in permanent posts at universities and research institutions. However, as I said, this depends on the country and in other countries there might be other possible ways to increase the number of women who reach professorship in physics.