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Women @ Energy: Gabriel Orebi Gann

March 12, 2013 - 1:10pm


Gabriel Orebi Gann is an Assistant Professor at U.C. Berkeley and works in LBNL's Nuclear Science Division. Photo by Ben Ailes.

Gabriel Orebi Gann is an Assistant Professor at U.C. Berkeley and works in LBNL's Nuclear Science Division. Photo by Ben Ailes.

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Gabriel Orebi Gann is an Assistant Professor at U.C. Berkeley, and does research in Particle Physics at Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory. Gabriel attended the University of Cambridge in the UK from 2000 to 2004, where she received her BA and MSci in Natural Sciences. She went on to the University of Oxford, and was awarded her DPhil in Particle and Nuclear Physics in 2008. Her post-doctoral research was performed at the University of Pennsylania, in Professor Klein's research group, working on SNO and its successor, the SNO+ experiment. Gabriel joined the U.C. Berkeley faculty in 2012.

1) What inspired you to work in STEM?

To be honest I was not someone who knew from an early stage what she wanted to do: I never imagined I would wind up as a university professor.  If asked when younger I would have said I wanted to be either an investment banker (I always enjoyed math) or a race-car driver.  Or possibly an astronaut.  At each step in my career path, from my undergraduate degree choice to graduate school, to my choice of experiments for post doc and later research, I have simply followed what interested me.  That path has carried me into particle physics, and it is only now, looking back, that I see the pattern was my passion for fundamental, precision measurements and the search for the unexpected: what excites and motivates me is the challenge of applying a new technique, or pushing into a new regime, in order to search for rare processes or unexpected behavior. 

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

The best part about my job, and the thing that keeps me going when it gets tough, is the people I get to work with.  I have certainly learned that there is no such thing as a stereotypical physicist: there is room for everyone here, from competitive gymnasts, marathon runners and rowers, to opera singers and rap artists, to gourmet chefs and published authors. 

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

The most important aspect in my mind is support and mentorship.  I have been lucky to work with some incredible people and to have had support from both family and colleagues.  It is also important to recognize that we are not all the same: there are gender differences, just as there are differences between people of the same gender, but these do not affect how good a scientist you can be.  As I mentioned above, there is great diversity in the people working in physics.  The change we need to make is in attitude: there is no typical personality type that succeeds as a physicist, if you are motivated and interested in the field then you should pursue that interest.  What we need to do is to offer people the support, and the opportunity, to enable them to make their own informed decision.  That involves educating people as to what it really means to be a physicist, and the earlier we start that the better.  Public lectures, talks in schools, workshops aimed at high-school students - outreach is a critical part of our work, both for education and recruitment.

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

Experience is very important.  Research is a very different environment from schoolwork, and the only way you will really know if this is the right path for you is to try it out.  You don't have to choose your specialty early: it's good to get a breadth of experience, so have a look at what research is going on at your local institution and approach a few people, find out whether you can take on a small project, or even just sit in on some of the research meetings to get a feel for the environment.

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

I moved to California just over a year ago, so I am still entranced by the year-round sun and making the most of it any way I can.  I love to swim - even in December the open-air pools in Berkeley are substantially warmer than the English Channel in August!  At the weekends I can often be found behind the wheel of my Morgan, a classic British (manual transmission) sports car, testing the corners over Grizzly Peak and enjoying the sunset over the Bay.  For stress relief I cycle or, when needed, pick up some martial arts weapons (bokken or sai) for a more intense workout.