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Mary K. Gaillard, pioneer in theoretical physics, will give a lecture at the Universitat de València

  • Fundació Parc Científic
  • March 11st, 2019
Mary K. Gaillard

North-American researcher Mary K. Gaillard will deliver a speech on Thursday, the 14th of March, at the Library of Sciences of the Universitat (Burjassot Campus). During the conference, she will explain her scientific career in a men's world. This conference is part of the series 'Si elles van poder, tu també', supported by Fundació Ramón Areces with the help of the Faculty of Physics and the Institute for Corpuscular Physics (UV-CSIC).

Mary K. Gaillard is a unique woman. She was the first woman physicist at the University of California, Berkeley and the first winner of the prestigious Sakurai award of the American Physical Society. The title of her biography, ‘A singularly unfemenine profession’ summarises the outlook she found in theoretical physics. During her conference, the North-American researcher will talk about her scientific career in a men’s world.

When Mary K. Gaillard was the first woman to study in the Faculty of Physics of the University of California, Berkeley, in 1981, she had already taken further steps in the field. Her career was built during the development of the Standard Model of Particle Physics, the theory that describes the visible universe. Educated at the Hollins University (Virginia, USA) and Columbia, she obtained her PhD at the University of Paris in 1968, where she moved with her husband and father of her three children, the physicist Jean Marc Gaillard. She was a researcher in the French National Center for Scientific Research (1964-1981) and associate researcher in the theorical department of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Mary Katharine Gaillard (New Brunswick, USA, 1939) contributed, together with the work developed with Benjamin W. Llig, to the estimation of the mass of the quark charm, proved by the findings carried out in November 1974 by Burt Richter and Samuel Ting at the SLAC and Brookhaven laboratories respectively. They both won the Nobel Prize for these findings. Mary Kay, as her parents used to call her, worked along with physicists such as John Ellis, with whom she undertook the first theoretical studies on the Higgs boson, which would be discovered at the CERN in 2012. In 1977, she estimated the mass of a new quark, the bottom, not long before it was discovered.

This significative breakthrough led her to be the winner of the J.J Sakurai award for theoretical physics of particles by the American Physical Society (1993), becoming the first woman winning this appreciation. Mary K will explain during her speech at the Universitat, in front of an audience compound by undergraduate students and researchers, her experience in a men’s field. According to a report written by herself in 1980, not long before she returned to the United States, only the 3% of scientific positions of the CERN were occupied by women. The proportion has improved over the last years, but Physics is still a men’s field (only the 20% of scientific positions in Spain are occupied by women). The situation only gets worse for theorical physics.

Encouraging the women who study and research to continue with their careers in physics through models suchs as Mary K is the purpose of ‘Si elles van poder, tu també’, a series of conferences carried out by the lecturer in the Department of Theorical Physics of the Universitat de València and IFIC researcher Gabriela Barenboim. This initiative has been supported by the Fundació Ramón Areces, as well as the Faculty of Physics and the Institute of Corpuscular Physics (IFIC, CSIC-Universitat de València) throught their programme of the Excellence Centre ‘Severo Ochoa’. Every two months, reowned women researchers in theoretical physics share their experience in a series that has brought to Valencia personalities such as Katherine Freese and Bonnie Fleming.

More information

Series ‘Si elles van poder, tu també’

Conference Mary K. Gaillard: ‘A singularly unfeminine profession’

Location: Assembly Hall of the Library of Sciences. Burjassot Campus. Universitat de València.
Date and time: Thursday, the 14th of March. 12:30.



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