It’s Women’s History Month! In this first in our series featuring several contemporary, trailblazing Greek women, meet Greek-American Physicist Maria Spiropulu, PhD.
By: Athina Pantazatou
Women’s History Month: Maria Spiropulu, PhD
Happy Women’s History Month! This month, we’ll highlight several contemporary Greek women who are blazing trails in their field. Today, we continually hear about the emphasis on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) in education, particularly for girls. We’re pleased to present a Greek woman who’s an extraordinary role model for young girls. Meet renowned physicist and researcher, Maria Spiropulu, PhD.
Maria Spiropulu, PhD Shang-Yi Ch’en Professor of Physics at Caltech, has often said that though the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy “are not easy ‘puzzles’, but they are solvable”. IMAGE: Caltech.edu
Maria Spiropulu, PhD: Pioneering scientist
Maria Spiropulu, PhD, the top Greek experimental physicist of the Diaspora, hails from Kastoria. Dr. Spiropulu studied Physics at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and graduated in 1993. She went on to receive her PhD from Harvard University in 2000. For many years she has been involved in particle research on both sides of the Atlantic. From 1993-2000, she was part of the team researching the Tevatron accelerator — the second highest energy particle collider in the world — at Fermilab in Chicago. Since 2004, she’s been a member of the CMS experimental team at the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland, also known as CERN.
Dr. Spiropulu has developed pioneering methods of analyzing scientific data that arise from collisions of subatomic particles, laying the foundations for both the historical discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2012 and the exploration of the exciting possibilities of “new physics”.
Since 2012, she serves as Professor of Physics at the famed California Institute of Technology. At the same time, she has organized many scientific conferences and symposia, plus seminars and workshops. She has participated in several scientific committees which aim to enhance the general public’s understanding on Ppysics. She’s been a lecturer at countless events, like the 2400 Years Odyssey: from Abdera to Batavia public lecture, hosted by the Hellenic Professional Society of Illinois, February 2003. In Wichita, KS in 2004, she presented Gravitational Particle Physics, a Watkins Foundation-endowed public lecture and seminar. She’s also given talks at the Harvard Club of Switzerland and the Aspen Center for Physics, among other places.
The prominent scientist is a fellow of the American Society for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), American Physical Society (APS), and Enrico Fermi Institute (EFI). Dr. Spiropulu is also a member of the Fermilab Physics Advisory Committee as well as the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP) to the U.S. Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation. She chairs the Forum of International Physics of the American Physical Society and serves on the Advisory Panel of the HEP Forum for Computational Excellence. Additionally, she’s a member of the Aspen Center for Physics. Her expertise is utilized in intellectual exchange forums such as the Edge. Additionally, she’s been featured in many public outreach science events and documentaries, including several produce by NASA TV, NOVA, Science Channel’s Wormhole, the History Channel, the San Francisco Exploratorium.
Over the years, Dr. Spiropulu has been praised for her research and has received numerous accolades. Among them are the Presidential Honorary Distinction by the President of Greece, Christos Sartzetakis in 1987; the Teaching White Award of Harvard University in 1993, and the Van Vleck Award of Harvard University in 1999. In 2003, the Publicity Club of Chicago awarded her the Golden Trumpet Award for “Quarks Unbound” — the particle physics brochure commissioned by theoretical physicist Chris Quigg for the Division of Particles and Fields of the American Physical Society.
Advocating for science and research
Passionate about her field and the possibilities, Dr. Spiropulu has actively participated, along with other leading American physicists, in scientific delegations aimed to persuade the U.S. Congress to fund and empower more research in the field of physics.
In May 2015, Dr. Spiropulu was invited to the White House in Washington, D.C. to attend the signing of the historic Euro-American cooperation agreement among the CERN, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Energy. Soon after, in an interview for the Athens News Agency she spoke optimistically on the possibility of even more exciting discoveries since particle collisions had begun anew in CERN’s accelerator after a 2-year break.
“We have entered the new age of particle collisions with higher energies than ever before. Having discovered the Higgs particle at 8 TeV [trillion electron-volts], we are now venturing into the world of Physics beyond the ‘Standard Model’ and beyond Higgs itself [. . .]. It is difficult to make predictions [. . .]. However, based on the history of particle physics, new phenomena are expected to be discovered when the energy of particles that collide increases.”
Other than numerous research papers for science journals, her impressive list of publications includes the final chapter, called “Where is Einstein?” in the book, My Einstein: Essays by Twenty-four of the World’s Leading Thinkers on the Man, His Work, and His Legacy, by John Brockman. She also contributed two chapters to Perspectives on LHC Physics, by University of Michigan professors Gordon Kane and Aaron Pierce. Additionally, Dr. Spiropulu was a contributor to What We Believe but Cannot Prove: Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty, by John Brockman. Another very important work she contributed to is a must for young women interested in science, Success Strategies for Women in Science: A Portable Mentor (Continuing Professional Development Series), by Elsevier Academic Press.
Maria Spiropulu, PhD – a pioneering woman in the field of science
Passionate about her work and the possibilities of exciting new discoveries, Dr. Maria Spiropulu is someone to watch. We’ll be hearing more from this renowned and respected physicist.
Next week we’ll introduce you to another extraordinary Greek woman making her mark in her field today.
Athina Pantazatou has studied English & American Literature and is an EFL/ESOL Teacher. She combined teaching and working as an executive secretary in a big advertising company and a law firm, for several years. She is currently a freelance feature writer, technical translator, and copy & content editor. In April 2012, she started blogging on Kicking Back the Pebbles in as a creative outlet for her to express her love for all things food, home-making, & traveling. Passionate about nature & culture, she’s happy to take you on a virtual tour of all the places she visits.
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