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Berrah puts physics and gender issues on national stage

May 7, 2007

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University's Dr. Nora Berrah, professor of physics, will be in the Washington, D.C., area this week to lead an effort designed to help the nation's leading research labs double the number of women engaged in physics research and teaching.

Berrah, an internationally renowned physics researcher, is co-chair of a May 6-8 workshop that is expected to attract the chairs of 50 major research-oriented university physics departments in the United States as well as the managers of about 15 physics-related national laboratories. The workshop will take place at the American Center for Physics in College Park, Md., and is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

"This is an important issue," says Berrah, "not only for the present generation of women with hopes to work happily in physics, but also for the next generation. Anyone who has a niece, daughter, sister, mother or spouse would want them to succeed without the road blocks and the historic gender biases in physics and related fields."

Dr. Arthur Beinenstock of Stanford University will join Berrah as co-chair of the workshop titled "Gender Equity: Strengthening the Physics Enterprise in Universities and National Laboratories."

Although women are at a disadvantage in many of the sciences, they are particularly scarce in physics, making up only 13 percent of faculty of all ranks from 760 degree-granting physics departments in the United States and 7.9 percent of faculty of all ranks at the major research universities. Comparable hard sciences, such as astronomy and chemistry, attract and retain women researchers at about twice these levels.

Berrah is hopeful that bringing together leaders of major research-oriented physics departments and national labs along with administrators of the primary research funding organizations, including the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, will lead to fundamental changes in culture, policy and funding that will attract and retain more women in physics.

In addition to Berrah and Beinenstock, presenters at the conference include the leaders of five NSF divisions and three DOE divisions as well as a number of leaders in other NSF and DOE directorates and offices. Presenters also will include representatives from Sandia National Laboratories and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory as well as researchers from a number of U.S. universities, including Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan, Penn State, Stanford and Yale.

The workshop will end with a major press event May 8 that will summarize the results of the workshop and the recommendations attendees make for moving forward.

More details about the workshop can be found at www.aps.org/programs/women/worshops.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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