Women in Physics and Astronomy

Women in Physics & Astronomy


Mission statement

The Women in Physics & Astronomy (WiPA) group at UC Irvine is a representative body for women at the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels. We strive to create a community for female physicists that fosters support through a variety of social events and outreach programs. We welcome anyone who is interested in discussing topics related to women in physics and addressing women’s issues and interests within the department.


Department statistics

Female undergraduates (Applied Physics + Physics): 20% (national average for physics in 2017: 21%)

Female grads: 21% (national average for physics in 2017: 18%)

Female postdocs: 29% (national average for physics in 2010: 16%)

Female faculty members: 18% (national average for physics in 2010: 14%)


Core activities

Undergraduate Mentorship Program 

- Pairing graduate mentors with undergraduate mentees to share their experiences and offer advice and support

Quarterly socials

- Hosting quarterly events where all members of the department are invited to meet WiPA members and learn about the group

External outreach

- Organizing activities and workshops for middle and high school girls

Journal Club

- Leading group discussions for all graduate students on articles or papers that address the climate in physics and/or the status of women or other underrepresented minorities in physics

Guest speakers

- Inviting female physicists and astronomers to discuss their research at department seminars/colloquia, as well as other individuals who can speak to topics relating to the representation of women and minorities in STEM fields



In 2012, Annika Peter, Giada Carminati and Laura Innes were motivated by the low number of women in the department to start the Women in Physics & Astronomy group at UCI. What initially began as brown bag lunches and happy hours grew into a mentorship program aimed at increasing retention among undergraduate women in physics.



Jennifer Rittenhouse West (6th year): Jennifer is a theoretical particle and astroparticle physics PhD candidate. She was a waitress many years ago. These days she studies physics, specifically dark matter, the symmetries of Nature and that increasingly intriguing Hubble expansion rate.

Bela Abolfathi (5th year): Bela is a PhD candidate in observational cosmology, where she uses ground-based telescopes to study the Dark Universe. She is currently working on two surveys (LSST and DESI). Besides physics, her other loves include playing soccer and fiddling for the Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles. 

Arianna Braconi (3rd year): Arianna is a PhD student in theoretical particle physics, currently studying the early universe. She is also interested in neutrinos, physics beyond the Standard Model, and mathematical physics. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, cooking, and obsessively watching The Office. 

Rachel Lucas (3rd year): Rachel is a PhD student working with the Siwy Group on applications of nanopores from desalination to particle detection as well as fundamental effects of different solution environments on pore surfaces. A fun fact about Rachel is that she’s hiked up Mt. Fuji!

Jessica Howard (2nd year): Jessica is a PhD student studying the interface of experimental and theoretical particle physics with a focus on beyond the Standard Model physics.  A fun fact about Jessica is that she rides horses, and was actually on the equestrian team at her undergraduate institution.

Astrid Anker (2nd year): Astrid is a PhD student in particle physics currently working on the ARIANNA experiment, which is looking for neutrinos in Antarctica. Outside of physics, in her spare time she likes to do nail art, hike, and play music.

Sophia Nasr (2nd year): Sophia is a PhD student in astroparticle physics and cosmology. In her current research, she uses astrophysics to learn about the particle properties of dark matter. Her research interests include inflationary cosmology and physics beyond the Standard Model in general. She is an avid science communicator on social media, where she can most often be found talking about physics, or sharing the journey of her hamsters. 

Vivian U (Postdoc): Vivian is an observational astronomer with research interests in galaxy evolution. She studies nearby galaxies and their supermassive black holes using primarily optical and near-infrared instruments at Lick and Keck. As a mother of two young children, she has no spare time outside of work but enjoys advocating for women scientists who may be underrepresented in the STEM fields due to overt discrimination or subconscious biases. 

Seyda Ipek (Postdoc): Seyda is a theoretical particle physicist working on understanding what is beyond the Standard Model of elementary particles. The main problems she tackles are: "What is dark matter?" and "Why is there more matter than antimatter in the Universe?" She likes thinking about the building blocks of our Universe and also doing the daily crossword.


Undergraduate representative

Lisabeth (Sophomore): Lisabeth is a second year undergraduate math and physics major looking to specialize in astrophysics. Besides being a physics major, she is also an animal lover and an amateur baker. 



Website: https://clubs.uci.edu/womeninphysics/ 

Facebook: Women in Physics & Astronomy at UCI

If you have questions or would like to join our mailing list, you can email us at: uciwomeninphysics@gmail.com