Elsa Abreu

Elsa Abreu

GWISE SpotlightOn…. Elsa Abreu (Lisbon, Portugal)

Department / Program: Physics, 5th year Ph.D. candidate

Research: Ultrafast dynamics of complex materials (Averitt lab)

You might also know her as: The head of Women in Physics (WIP) and the former leader of the Portuguese American Postgraduate Society (Boston Chapter)

Likes: traveling, good food, reading, playing music

Preferred operating system: Mac OS

Sci-fi technology she’d like to get her hands on: Teletransportation

Highly recommends that you go see: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Let’s hear it for our first spotlighted member, Elsa Abreu!  Each month, GWISE will profile one of our members in the newsletter and on our website (please send nominations to gwise@bu.edu).

Elsa spends her days playing with lasers in the basement of Photonics, but she loves to get out and about to explore Boston’s culinary scene, get some exercise, and spend time with friends and family. She’s a physics hotshot who’s giving back to the community both as head of Women in Physics (WIP) and an active member of the Portuguese American Postgraduate Society. If you see Elsa around campus, be sure to ask her about her very first paper, “THz spectroscopy of VO2 epitaxial films: controlling the anisotropic properties through strain engineering”, which was published in August. Way to go, Elsa!

GWISE caught up with Elsa recently for a little Q&A:

GWISE:How did you get into science, and/or why do you love what you do?

Elsa: I have hesitated for a while between science and humanities, and ended up choosing what I thought would keep most doors open. Then when the time came to decide what kind of science I wanted to do, I chose math/physics over biology/medical. I guess I realized that my mind was mainly analytical! It is always difficult to know where the other paths would have taken me, but so far I have never regretted my choice!

GWISE: So, what are you studying for your Ph.D? Give us your elevator pitch!

Elsa: I am working in Prof. Richard Averitt’s lab in the Physics department, studying the ultrafast dynamics of complex materials. I basically analyze how the spectral content of laser light, mainly in the THz frequency range, changes as it interacts with certain materials, and how that response is altered following photoexcitation.Having access to different wavelengths of light and to laser pulses with ultrashort durations allows us to probe different excitations in the sample and their corresponding dynamics on very fast timescales. Complex materials correspond to technologically relevant compounds whose behavior does not follow standard metal-semiconductor-insulator theories, and whose electronic, orbital, lattice and spin degrees of freedom are strongly interconnected. Learning more about their properties can have a tremendous technological impact.

GWISE: Trick! What’s one trick you’ve learned that is essential for scientists in your field?

Elsa: Perseverance – I have the feeling that this is valid for all fields… J

Group work – The ability to work with others, and to discuss ideas and problems with colleagues and lab mates, is essential! It might not always be easy but it is extremely rewarding!

GWISE: Treat! What is the biggest treat in your line of work?

Elsa: Getting to do what I love! It might sound like an easy answer, but it isn’t. I really do consider it a privilege to have the chance to spend time thinking about the problems that I am interested in and trying to solve them, and to have amazing people teaching me how to do it better and more efficiently. I’m not certain what will come next, but so far the opportunity of doing a PhD in physics is a treat in itself!

GWISE: Who’s your biggest cheerleader – who do you go to for advice and encouragement when grad school gets tough?

Elsa: My boyfriend and my brother! Both are doing PhDs, both know me very well, and both are great to talk to (though in very different ways!) when things get a little rougher. My parents and friends are also great supporters!

GWISE: Elsa, any words for the GWISE community at large?

Elsa: I think GWISE is a great initiative and a fantastic opportunity to bring young BU female scientists together. I have never been involved in GWISE as an officer but have been head of the BU Women in Physics association for over a year now, and the two groups share a fair number of goals. GWISE’s social events are, in my opinion, a great opportunity for women to interact and learn more about each other, and about the differences and similarities between fields as far as female presence and impact are concerned. GWISE has also been bringing amazing speakers to BU, whose broad perspective brings us invaluable inspiration and motivation. Female scientists, male scientists, don’t miss the opportunity to take part in GWISE events!

GWISE: We couldn’t agree more!  Thanks so much for your time, Elsa, and good luck with your research!