Rosario González Férez (Javalí Nuevo, Murcia, 1973), professor at the University of Granada, is the first woman to chair the Atomic, Molecular and Optical Commission of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP), an organization that brings together scientists from around the world. He has worked at universities in Germany, Canada and the United States, but he assures that "the women it is even more difficult for them to dedicate themselves to research".
Why were you interested in physics so much that you specialized in atomic physics?
I liked the sciences, and physics allows us to understand phenomena at a basic and fundamental level. At first I wanted to specialize in astrophysics, but in college I liked quantum physics much more, and the opportunity arose to do a doctorate in atomic physics. During my postdoctoral stay at the University of Heidelberg I started working on molecular physics. Since then I continue working on atomic and molecular physics. I must admit that it is an exciting area, especially when our theoretical studies allow us to interpret and explain experimental observations of atoms or molecules in the laboratory.
Finding female researchers in a scientific discipline is difficult, but in this field I imagine there will be very few. Why happens?
It is a very complicated problem and it is not due to a lack of talent on the part of women. There are still involuntary prejudices and stereotypes about how the science and antiquated institutional structures that pose an additional barrier to access and advancement for women. Women always have it harder in research. The level of demand is higher and many times our merits are doubted, attributing them to the fact that they were achieved by being a woman. On numerous occasions they put our condition as a woman before that of a scientist. Currently, the international scientific community is making a great effort to increase the number of women. In particular, the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics has a dedicated working group and strategic plan.
"At first I wanted to specialize in astrophysics, but during my studies I liked quantum physics much more"
Has equality still not reached science?
No, equality has not arrived. Great progress is being made in this area, but in most scientific disciplines there is still a lack of women scientists at the highest levels of the hierarchy and in positions of authority. Unfortunately, it is not only in science where there is no equality. In today's society, it is still necessary to promote gender equality and, especially, the integration of women in many work areas that are still dominated by the male gender.
What kind of research have you done so far?
I am investigating how to control and manipulate the dynamics of molecules with laser and electric fields. Another of my research projects is dedicated to studying the properties of very large molecules that are formed from the interaction of a Rydberg system, atoms or molecules that have an electron in a highly excited orbit, with a molecule in the ground state. In this project I am collaborating with experimental groups at Harvard, Durham and Stuttgart Universities who want to create and use these Rydberg molecules, and our theoretical studies will guide them in the laboratory.
What is the mission of the Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics Commission that you chair?
This commission represents the international scientific community working in this area of physics and its mission is to apply the objectives of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics. Its mission is to facilitate collaboration between scientists and international laboratories, promote the exchange of information, results and opinions and guarantee the free movement of scientists throughout the world. It helps organize two of the most important international conferences in this area of knowledge. In addition, it awards an annual prize to young researchers who have made original and outstanding contributions in the field of Atomic Molecular Physics and Optics.
"In most disciplines there is a lack of women scientists in positions of authority"
What practical applications is this discipline looking for now?
The great impact of research in this area is to better understand the properties of atoms and molecules, as well as their interaction with each other and with electromagnetic radiation. It is an advance in knowledge that is basic and fundamental in nature, and that, for example, allows us to understand the properties of materials and even design new ones. On the other hand, there are numerous applications since this area of physics plays a fundamental role in the development of quantum information and new quantum technologies, such as quantum cryptography, quantum computing and quantum sensing. For example, the development of quantum sensors is leading to very powerful instruments for measuring electric and magnetic fields both in our environment and inside our bodies. Even to measure local variations of gravitation in order to find minerals, water and design advanced warning systems for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Talking about atomic physics at the moment inevitably brings us back to the scenes of attacks on nuclear power plants that we have seen in Ukraine, although it may not have much to do with your work?
No. Everything related to nuclear power plants and radioactivity and its applications is within the area of nuclear physics.