CSIR’s own, champions women participation in physics


The 4th International Conference of Women in Physics was held in Stellenbosch early in April. It was organised by the CSIR’s Igle Gledhill, physicist at the organisation’s Defence, Peace, Safety and Security unit.

The conference not only celebrated women’s participation in physics, but also made recommendations on how to increase the participation of women in the field. This year’s gathering was attended by more than 220 distinguished physicists around the globe. This is noteworthy as the conference is by invitation only, says Gledhill.

One of the main points of discussion at this year’s conference was the global results of the survey conducted on women participation in physics. The survey ran from October 2009 to October 2010. Some of the significant findings of the survey showed that women were unlikely to:
* give invited talks;
* be appointed as managers;
* be editors of science journals;
* sit on grant committees.

In developing countries, the survey results showed that women were less likely to have access to opportunities and resources to become physicists. “Despite survey findings, there is an appetite for physics among women, and in South Africa, the physics community is particularly vibrant,” says Gledhill.
Comrade in arms

Gledhill let on that there were physicists present from Japan, “Our colleagues from Japan reported that the nation was still reeling from the earth quake and tsunami and that Japanese physics will take two years to recover.
“Also present were women physicists from Iran, who participated actively in discussions, but there were cancellations from Yemen and Tunisia as they were involved in the revolution.” The network around the world is a strong one, it is a set of friendships that is not exclusive to race, creed, gender or religion, adds Gledhill.
Proposed incentives for women in physics

Department of Science and Technology Minister, Naledi Pandor, who gave the keynote speech at the event, said South Africa needed to add to existing measures, which include research fellowships and special grants, to support women scientists and to nurture learners who showed an interest in physics.

Mrs Pandor conjectured that South Africa was absent from the Thomson Reuters’ list of 20 top countries in the field because women here were discouraged from studying science. She quipped, “I can’t help thinking that this is because we have not yet properly unleashed the scientific talent of half of our people – the better half…”