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Women @ Energy: Beate Heinemann

June 4, 2013 - 10:41am

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Dr. Heinemann is a Professor at the University of California, Berkeley and Senior Physicist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Dr. Heinemann is a Professor at the University of California, Berkeley and Senior Physicist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

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Dr. Beate Heinemann is a Professor at the University of California, Berkeley and Senior Physicist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Dr. Heinemann earned her BS and MS from the University of Hamburg and her Ph.D from University of Hamburg and DESY. She received the “Best Ph.D Thesis Award” in 1999 and was elected an American Physics Society fellow in 2009 and a Kavili fellow in 2012.

1) What inspires you to work in STEM?

Mostly it is simply my curiosity and the challenge it represents. It is very fascinating to find out something truly fundamental about nature, e.g. finding a new law of nature or a new fundamental particle. I was among the people discovering the Higgs boson last year and just purely the fact that we have experimentally found a particle which was theoretically assumed to be there for nearly 50 years is amazing. Working in STEM in general gives the opportunity to increase the overall knowledge of humanity, and this can lead to revolutionary developments of society, e.g. quantum mechanics led to the development of the transistor which in turn led to the development of computers.

2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department/Berkeley Lab?

Berkeley Lab provides a fantastic work environment for me. I am member of the Berkeley Lab ATLAS group which consists of about 45 people, 10 of which are students. Within this group we have a broad range of expertise ranging from silicon detector development, via software development and performance studies to physics analyses. In addition there is a group of about 15-20 theorists that work on ideas related to my research. I frequently interact with all these people. It is a very stimulating and exciting research environment.

3)  How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

I wish I knew! In my experience the biggest problem is lack of confidence during the critical ages of 15-20. Women often think they can't do it even though they are just as talented as their peer men. I myself was thinking I could not do it when I was about 20 during my first 2 semesters. I thought at least that I was not very good. But then in the first oral exam I got the highest grade and did much better than most men and women. I was surprised and kept going but if I had not gotten quite as high of a mark I might have quit. I think in this area mentoring can help from graduate students or faculty. I also think this is why role models play an important role as they show that women can succeed in that given area. I also think specialized events at universities directed at undergraduate women in STEM are very useful to foster interactions between the students and to enable the students to discuss with graduate students, postdocs or professors about their career in related fields.

Of course there is the general question of how women can combine career and family but this is an issue for all fields, not only STEM, and cannot explain why e.g. there are fewer majors in physics than in math. I myself don't have children and have thus not faced any of these challenges.

4) Do you have tips you would recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?

My field has become a very international enterprise, simply due to the relatively high costs (both in money and in labor) of the facilities required. A critically important aspect is also the ability to interact well with people since all the work is highly collaborative. This goes somewhat against the picture the general public has of a scientist being a person locked into his/her basement lab.

5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?

I love to ski, and have recently started running nearly every day. I also enjoy good movies, books and particularly music.

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