Dr. Nadya Mason, an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says that the best part of having a degree in physics is getting to work in a fun and stimulating profession where she gets to choose her own schedule, focus on research and teaching, as well as traveling and meeting new people from around the world.
Solving math word problems for fun while growing up, she has always liked math and science and completed numerous summer internships that allowed her to know what fields she didn’t want to pursue and which she would follow as she continued her education. Earning two degrees in physics, a BS from Harvard and Ph.D. from Stanford, she worked as a post-doc researcher and then a Junior Fellow at Harvard before joining the faculty at Illinois where she is regarded by her students as an excellent teacher.
Her research focuses on the behavior of electrons in low-dimensional materials where enhanced interactions are expected to take give novel results. She leads a group that works with materials like carbon nanotubes, graphene, and nanostructural superconductors. This work is important in many technological fields like information storage and quantum computers, which are machines that encode information on the scale of atoms and perform quantum operations on this information-allowing it to model the behavior of very small particles or sift through amazingly huge amounts of data. While these computers are currently theoretical, there are many scientists, including those in the Mason group that are working on the different systems needed to make them possible.
Mason has been honored many times for her work, including being awarded the Denice Denton Emerging Leader Award from the Anita Borg Society in 2009, which recognizes a junior faculty member for high-quality research and significant positive impact on diversity. This was followed by the 2012 Maria Goeppert Mayer Award that is given to a woman physicist in the early part of her career. She has served on the American Physical Society’s Committee on Minorities as well as being elected as a General Councilor of the group in 2014.
Written by Angela Goad