10 Questions with Irene Alda
Irene Alda, 23, from Spain is a Ph.D. student at the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) in Barcelona, Spain.
Her research is about optical trapping and optomechanics.
Irene is a participant of the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting which is dedicated to the field of physics in 2016.
Enjoy the interview with Irene and get inspired:
- What inspired you to pursue a career in physics / STEM?
My “young” love for math and curiosity (physics explains the why and how of things). I had a teacher in high school that once told us “if you are thinking about studying mathematics, study physics, you will see plenty of math and become a good problem solver”. This phrase really stuck in my head.
- Who are your role models?
Strong, empowering, and inspiring people. History-wise: Hypatia and Marie Curie. As of today, Natalie Panek is very motivating and Tao Porchon-Lynch is a living proof that anything is possible at any age. And of course, my parents: my dad-a physicist-has always inspired me on the science side, and my mom-a linguist-on creative writing and artistic expression.
- How did you get to where you are in your career path?
As in almost everything in life, a mix of smart decision making, luck, hard work, and good timing. One of the “triggers” was a teacher in high school that proposed us to do a small research project: I did it on athletic performance since I was competed in cross country and track and field. This project was submitted and got selected for a young scientist congress: the experience became the seed to pursue research. I studied Physics at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, which has one of the best Physics programs in Spain. During that time I did two internships at CSIC (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas): one on SERS with Dr. Santiago Sánchez-Cortés and another on thermoelectrics with Dr. Marisol Martín-González. These were also two key experiences that allowed me to realize how much I like being in a lab. I also studied a year abroad in the USA where classes were fascinating and I had my first contact with optics and photonics. Back in Madrid, for my undergraduate project I studied the elastic properties of graphene with AFM in the lab of Dr. Julio Gómez and I learned how to become independent in a lab. Soon after, I did a Summer internship at ICFO with Dr. Romain Quidant, loved the experience. I continued my master studies project there and now the PhD. The greatest challenge I am currently facing is the two body problem: my husband is doing his PhD in Italy while I am in Barcelona. It is sometimes hard but, both as a person and as a couple, I believe we grow, become stronger and mature a bit more everyday.
- What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Planar Paul traps. It “wows” me how a varying electric field can trap and levitate a charged nanoparticle.
- What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself / your work?
Every time I put my heart and mind on something, whatever the outcome, I feel accomplished.
- What is a “day in the life” of Irene like?
In the a.m. I like to do a short workout like yoga or strength training to get the body moving and awake. Once at ICFO, it depends, it is usually a mix of: fabricating samples, aligning/measuring in the lab, reading papers, writing what I am working on (so I don’t forget details), attending seminars, etc. After ICFO, I usually go to yoga or running (depending on what I did in the morning) to fully disconnect and focus on something different from what I did during the day. This allows me to be fresh and ready for “research time”. And of course, some house chores and healthy cooking for the next day.
- What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?
Honestly, I would like to feel everyday (or almost everyday) inspired, happy about what I am doing, and realized as a person.
- What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?
I like to be outside: go running, practice yoga at the beach, go on long walks and hikes. I also like exploring vegan and raw vegan recipes and indulging on sofa and movie time. I also love to travel.
- What advice do you have for other women interested in physics / STEM?
Do what you love, follow your “gut feeling”, and don’t let anyone stop you from achieving what you believe in.
- In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physics research?
Quantum computers (fingers crossed).
What should be done to increase the number of female profs of physics?
We should start at the beginning: at schools. I think young girls should be exposed in a fun way to math and science. They should be encouraged to follow these type of studies and careers. I feel there is this feeling of “girls go to social studies and boys to science” is still very present in society. Something that I think is great to encourage girls in science are TV series. Why? Well, since the series the “Big Bang theory” became popular in Spain, there has been a boom in physics students and a greater percentage of them are young women.