Anne Marie March, Assistant Physicist, Argonne National Laboratory
Anne Marie March is part of a team trying to push the limits of ultrafast science at synchrotron light sources. As an assistant physicist in Argonne National Laboratory’s Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics Group, she is developing methods to efficiently use synchrotron x-ray pulses in stroboscopic measurements, capturing atoms and molecules in action after they have been excited with laser light. Anne Marie is implementing laser systems and detection schemes that will be used as part of the Short Pulse X-ray Facility at the lab’s Advanced Photon Source. The combination of these techniques and an upgrade to the APS accelerator system will allow synchrotron users to study for the first time chemical and biological reactions occurring as fast as one trillionth of a second. This ultrafast picosecond timeframe is where most processes for materials science and nanotechnology occur. Anne Marie started her work at Argonne as a postdoc in 2009. She earned a Ph.D. in physics from Stony Brook University, studying the interaction of ultrafast, ultra-intense lasers with atoms. She graduated with a major in physics from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.
1) What inspired you to work in STEM?
My father introduced me to science concepts when I was very young and I think this sparked a curiosity about the scientific description of the physical world that has carried me to where I am today. I remember being astonished when he explained to me that the same kind of building blocks, atoms, made up all solids, liquids, and gases. I really wanted to see those atoms to figure out how they could possibly be put together to make such different things as the kitchen table and the water in the bathtub. This curiosity was rekindled many times, thanks to my father and many wonderful teachers, as I grew up and pursued my education. I recall my excitement in my high school physics class when I realized that mathematics could quantitatively predict the outcome of physical phenomenon (and that calculus was actually good for something!) and my amazement in college when I came to understand how experiments could be designed to explore the workings of the universe on scales far beyond where our five senses can take us. I am very grateful to all those who introduced me to this intriguing way of understanding the world and feel very lucky that I can work in science.
2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?
I am able to work at the Advanced Photon Source, one of the most powerful hard X-ray sources in the world and one of the greatest tools ever developed for understanding matter at the atomic and molecular scale. I get to help push the limits of what we can observe using X-rays towards temporal regimes that have yet to be explored. I get to work together with incredibly talented people with diverse areas of expertise and it’s thrilling being part of a national laboratory where so much exciting and important research is being carried out.
While my work is more basic than applied research, the techniques I am developing have potential to aid other scientists at the APS or other synchrotrons around the world in their studies of applied problems that are of crucial importance to our society. X-ray lightsources are used by researchers in just about every scientific field, including materials science, chemistry, biology, geoscience, engineering, and nuclear and atomic physics. These scientists use the X-raytools that I help develop and other tools like them at the APS to address the world’s energy, health and environment issues. It’s exciting to think that the research that comes out of the facility I work with can lead to more efficient batteries and solar panels, new pharmaceuticals, high-performance materials, cleaner water and more productive crop growth.
3) How can our country engage more women, girls and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
I think that all children need to be exposed to science at an early age, not only at school but also at home and in fun ways with toys, games, books, and magazines. As children grow older, I think educators and mentors need to look out for signs of self doubt, which can so easily creep in among girls and other underrepresented minorities because of societal pressures, and arm children with strategies for managing these insecurities. Such strategies can be very empowering and indispensable when navigating a career in science. Also, I think that creative solutions need to be found to make it easier for people to have a fulfilling family life and career.
4) Do you have tips you’d recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
Seek out projects and challenges that interest you, that really capture your imagination, and seek out people that you can have fun working with. Also be open to new and unexpected things. At the start of graduate school I stressed a bit trying to decide what lab to join but ultimately realized that it was lasers and how they interacted with matter that fascinated me most and so I sought out a lab where I could explore this. During the course of my graduate research, I began thinking that it would be nice to have another tool to “peer in” and observe what was happening to the atoms under laser exposure. I was very fortunate to attend a conference where Argonne’s AMO Physics group leader was giving a talk on using X-rays in combination with lasers to study atoms and molecules. X-rays were just what I was looking for. I joined the group as a postdoc and entered the exciting world of synchrotron experiments. Now I’m able to combine my ultrafast laser expertise with x-ray measurements and am part of the rapidly developing community of scientists from a wide range of disciplines wanting to use the x-rays to access and understand the fastest phenomena in nature. It’s really exciting.
5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
I am very fortunate to live in Chicago, a fantastic city with a vibrant cultural life and exquisite culinary offerings. My husband and I have only begun to scratch the surface! During the warmer, festive months, we love taking long walks and bike rides along the lakefront. I also enjoy doing yoga, which I find to be very relaxing activity.