2nd EPS Emmy Noether Distinction 2013

By . Published on 20 December 2013 in:
Awards, December 2013, Interview, , , ,

The EPS Emmy Noether Distinction for Women in Physics has been given by the EPS Executive Committee to Prof. Nynke Dekker of the Delft University of Technology, Netherlands, and we offer our heartfelt congratulations.

A laudation has been prepared by Prof. van der Hagen, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Sciences at the Delft University of Technology, and can be read in the Europhysicsnews [EPN]. As a summary, N. Dekker’s scientific career started in Yale University where she attended physics and applied mathematics courses. She moved to Leiden University for her MSc and received her PhD from Harvard University. After a postdoctoral period in biological physics at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, her career picked up speed: she became Full Professor in less than six years as group leader of Biophysics at the nanoscale. Currently she carries out novel biophysical research on single molecules of DNA, enzymes, and molecular motors. Besides its fundamental interest, her research impacts biomedical research, especially concerning enzymes that influence DNA topology. Her research inspired multiple publications in Nature and Cell, including features on the cover of Nature.

We present an extract of an interview between Nynke Dekker [ND] and Jo Lister [JBL], chair of the Equal Opportunities Committee of the EPS, in November 2013.

Nynke Dekker
Nynke Dekker

JBL: At what point in your education did you consider a career in physics?

ND: I was pretty sure that I would major in math or science towards the end of secondary school, and it ended up being physics after very inspirational freshman-year physics lectures at Yale University. That was my main focus, though I also did a second major in applied math mostly because it was fun and didn’t take much extra time. And after completing my bachelor’s degree (at Yale) I completed a master at Leiden University, which mostly consisted of research, which I did in order to determine whether I really liked doing research. Which I did, whereupon I decided to do a PhD in physics and I think at that point I was pretty much decided on a career in physics.

JBL: Did you find a resistance to girls succeeding in science?

ND: Well not really a resistance in the sense that people were opposed to it, or jealous, but mostly that they found it “weird” that I was taking all of the science-related classes, especially in secondary school. I think I did not get distracted by this because I just didn’t really care so much what people thought of me or worry about peer pressure, but I can imagine this affects different people differently.

JBL: Do you believe that physics should positively discriminate in favour of women?

ND: Well, I think it not a good thing in any field to have a great imbalance between the genders. For example, in the same way that there are few women physicists there are also relatively few male nurses or primary school teachers, which in my opinion is a loss for society. So I think it is a good thing to encourage or highlight those who choose to go against “common wisdom”, so that it can encourage others to make the same choices and eventually end up with more balanced proportions of men and women in a number of fields.

JBL: Would you choose the same career again? If not, what would interest you now?

ND: I would, actually. Despite being a lot of work, it is really a lot of fun. I am only jealous of the theoretical physicists, because with that line of work it is easier to be mobile and spend extended visits at different universities, etc. As an experimentalist that is more challenging!

We remind readers that EPS Individual Members can make nominations for this distinction to the Secretariat at any time, and that the distinction is made twice a year. All necessary information can be found on the EPS website.

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