Physics for all

Physics for all

The Theory Girls want to welcome you to physics like you rarely see it.

As a science, physics challenges some of the greatest minds. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be accessible, friendly and—dare they say it—fun.

That’s the theory driving the Theory Girls, six young physicists—including a Case researcher and alumna—who want us to see physics in a whole new light.

Their passion for science radiates from their colorful website, theorygirls.com, which throws out mottos like, “Science is for everyone!”  And it pervades their podcasts, where they laugh along with experts as they ponder the origins of the universe, divulge their fondness for neutrinos, and share strategies for succeeding in a guy’s domain.

“As women in high-energy theoretical physics, we’re really in the minority,” said Laura Johnson, PhD ‘20, who earned her doctorate in physics in CWRU’s College of Arts and Sciences. “But we also want to build a friendlier community for everyone. This field is kind of known for being intimidating. We just want to create an environment where everyone feels welcome.”

The Theory Girls began in June 2019, when five of the women—Johnson, Erin Blauvelt, Delilah Gates, Shruti Paranjape and Hazel Mak—met at the TASI physics conference in Colorado. All either hold doctorates in physics or are working toward them.

Johnson shared the encounter with her Case colleague, Klaountia Pasmatsiou. It did not take long for a mission to take shape, aided by the pair’s organizing skills. In 2017, Johnson and Pasmatsiou organized the Women’s March on Cleveland, which drew 15,000 people downtown.

Pasmatsiou, an international student from Greece, is a graduate student in the Physics Department of CWRU. Johnson is doing post doctorate work at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, researching Einstein’s theory of gravity.

The pandemic slowed the group’s activities, but the Theory Girls have big plans for the new year. A new series of podcasts begin in February. Meanwhile, they hope to incorporate as a non-profit, which would allow them to raise money and begin to pay the people who maintain their website and produce their podcasts.

Johnson said the group and its mission proved more popular than they expected, and they’ve been contacted by potential corporate supporters, including software engineering firms. They also heard from a group of lawyers who say the Theory Girls have made them physics fans.

“Right now we’re just doing this in our spare time,” she said. “But it would be nice to be able to keep it going and do it more often.”

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Laura Johnson and Klaountia Pasmatsiou at the Women’s
March on Cleveland.

Laura Johnson, PhD ’20

Klaountia Pasmatsiou

“As women in high-energy theoretical physics, we’re really in the minority. But we also want to build a friendlier community for everyone. This field is kind of known for being intimidating. We just want to create an environment where everyone feels welcome.”

— Laura Johnson, PhD ‘20