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By Ernie Tretkoff
Rebecca Forrest is the first recipient of the APS Hildred Blewett Scholarship for Women in Physics. Forrest is a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Houston, where she plans to use the scholarship funds to establish her research program in condensed matter physics.
The scholarship was endowed by a bequest from M. Hildred Blewett, a particle accelerator physicist who died in 2004. Hildred Blewett loved physics and wanted to help women overcome obstacles to their careers. A remembrance of Blewett was the subject of the APS News Back Page in February of this year.
The purpose of the scholarship is to enable early-career women to return to physics research after having had to interrupt their careers for family reasons. The scholarship consists of a one-year award of up to $45,000, which can be used for dependent care, salary, travel, equipment, and tuition and fees.
Forrest earned her PhD in condensed matter physics from the University of Houston in 1998. She was a postdoctoral researcher in the Materials Science and Engineering department at UCLA from 1998 to 2000. Forrest then moved back to Houston in 2000 when her husband began a new job at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
Forrest says she has been limited in her search for a tenure track position by her husband’s career. “In order to be part of the space program, he’s geographically limited. I have to find the best position available in the city we live in.” She also has two boys, ages 4 and 7, whom she cares for, and therefore cannot put in the very long hours needed to do both full-time teaching and research.
In 2000 Forrest took a position as a postdoctoral researcher and adjunct instructor at the University of Houston. In 2002, she accepted a position as a full-time lecturer at the University of Houston–Downtown. The workload at the Downtown campus is primarily teaching, she says, so she had almost no time for research.
In 2004, she obtained a position as a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Houston main campus. While her primary duty is still teaching, she has a slightly lower teaching load and thus more time for research. In addition, she says, “I’m closer to colleagues and research labs. Now that I have the Blewett scholarship, I can devote more time to research.”
She plans to use the scholarship to establish an active research program. Forrest expects to study lateral composition modulation, a type of spontaneous periodic modulation in alloy composition which has been observed in many semiconductor alloys and is known to affect electrical and optical properties. Forrest plans to investigate whether lateral composition modulation affects the lasing performance of antimonide-based diode lasers. These lasers are being developed by researchers at the Naval Research Laboratory for military and medical applications.
Forrest says she will use the Blewett scholarship for lab equipment and childcare costs. She hopes to have some initial results within a year, and plans build on those results to apply for grants for more research funding. “I hope that by getting my research back underway I will be an attractive candidate for a tenure track position,” she says.
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