Fem Phys Friday: Nergis Mavalvala
The second one is Dr. Nergis Mavalvala. A Pakistani-born astrophysicist, Mavalvala came to the US to attend Wellesley College, and all women’s college is Massachusetts where she graduated in 1990 already with a publication in Physical Review B: Condensed Matter. Afterwards, she joined the graduate program at MIT where she met Dr. Rainer Weiss beginning her career in astrophysics. Weiss accepted Mavalvala as his student because of her practical skills in machining, electronics and work with lasers.
Her graduate research started as a proof-of-concept: building table-top interferometers designing an automatic alignment system which would be needed for the experiment on a march larger scale. Eventually, her work was incorporated in the design of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, also known as LIGO, which is used to detect the presence of gravitational waves using two mirrors and the idea that a gravitational wave will contract one of the arms, causing a miss-match in phase for a beam that has been split along the two arms.
She joined the faculty at MIT in 2002 where she acknowledges the importance of mentoring students, recalling her supportive chemistry teacher in Pakistan who let her work with chemical reagents in the lab outside of school. She has passing her excitement of science to her own students. Dr. Mavalvala continues to be recognized for her amazing work by being named one of 23 McArthur Fellows, an unrestricted award given to those who are creative, have significant accomplishments and have prospect for future advancements, in 2010. She then was also recipient of the Joseph F. Keithley Award for Advances in Measurement Science in 2013
A self-described “out, queer person of color,” Dr. Mavalvala describes her relationship with her partner as organic and has said that her department has been supportive. They now have a young daughter. She was a speaker at National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals’ (NOGLSTP) Out to Innovate™ 2014 joint with the 4th Annual oSTEM National Conference which is and recipient of NOGLSTP’s LGBTQ+ Scientist of the Year award.
**edited because of a huge typo