“From the eyes of women I derive my doctrine: they still shine with the true fire of Prometheus, they are the books, the arts, the academies, which show, contain and nourish the world”William Shakespeare
8 March is International Women’s Day, a day to fight for the equality, participation and empowerment of women in all sectors of society.
However, there are still stereotypes to overcome, one for example is trying to understand why if women make up 50% of the population the percentage of female students in engineering classrooms is less than 25%.
One of the possible answers could lie in the lack of female role models or in prejudices that are transferred from one generation to the next.
Women have more than proved that this is not a closed field for them and many have become prestigious aerospace engineers.
The truth is that talent, algorithms and science do not distinguish between genders.
Our PhD students, with their answers, want to contribute and bear witness to what has just been said by trying to convey their enthusiasm and sending out a message to all girls and women who want to approach this type of career: “be free to be what you want to be, without fear, without prejudice and above all without hesitation!”
Pink Week: Interview with María Scherezade Barquero
Briefly describe the topic of your doctoral thesis I am a 4th-year PhD Candidate, as a member of the Space and Plasma Propulsion Team (EP2). Most of current nanosatellites lack on-board propulsion. My PhD research deals with the numerical modeling, design, manufacturing and experimental diagnostic of a low-power class ablative pulsed plasma thruster (APPT), suitable for micropropulsion purposes, in the frame of the Martinlara regional project. Precisely, CubeSat limitations lie in supplied power and size. Without prejudice to be operationally versatile, the APPT is the most appropriate electric thruster for down scalability, in both structural terms and power budget. However, the advantages derived from the simplicity of the discharge chamber components of APPTs contrast with the efforts needed to describe the physics of the plasma generation and acceleration. Developing a reliable complete engineering model based on APPT technology, and aiming for the better understanding of the physical mechanisms behind the former processes involve overcoming many challenges which are in turn multiple by nature (e.g., plasma physics, numerical methods, pulsed plasma diagnostics, high voltage electronics, charge transportation processes on dielectrics, vacuum environment, etc.)
Why did you choose to study engineering? Stephen Hawking said, "[...] I still keep asking these 'how' and 'why' questions". Relatively speaking :), me too. I really enjoy learning and I highly appreciate the knowledge that comes from the generosity of those who share their expertise. I am so curious about many different fields, from art to mathematics. Creativity and sensitivity, and being extremely rational are not mutually exclusive in my inside. I am very grateful to the academy, in general, and the space physics and engineering, in particular, for being a source of daily inspiration and motivation, telling me about the existence of endless lists of, first, things with explanation waiting to be read, and, secondly, the impressive challenges still to be solved. I can keep my eyes looking at and wondering about the vastness of the sky, at the same time that the equations and the scientific method offer me a fundamental reference not to be lost. Research requires a lot of effort, yes, but also teaches you about patience and resilience without preventing you to stop dreaming big. One day I asked myself what about if I wanted to make aircraft engines or space rockets or to be an astronaut, and I have to thank both my mother and myself for the support and confidence, respectively, of answering: "Go ahead!". This work actually deserves my time and I feel tremendously blessed for the opportunity of working in this field and being part of a team as great as EP2 is.
Scherezade what would you say to a teenager who wants to pursue an engineering degree? I would like to share some of the things that, every day, I tell myself, which I have been realized about along my years as a student. First, enjoy 🙂 Whenever possible, squeeze the opportunities for learning that you detect, from books or any other means, and professors, for sure, but also from other students. Be confident, and do not allow yourself to fear due to the views/perspectives of others. Be curious about things, try everything. Seek. Strive and be organised. Learn about frustration to relativize "fails" and, instead of feeling held by the anxiety, you can act proactively looking for ways to continue. I think this statement is useful for when you detect you were doing something wrongly, in order to focus on the time is ahead of you to do the things better and not on the spent time. Keep your goals big, but Schedule your tasks and advance step by step. Make use of the auto-criticism and be demanding with yourself, but try to keep a balance and appreciate your effort; nothing deserves your time if you do not care for yourself. Last but no least, again, enjoy and strive; it is true that effort is not a synonym necessarily of guarantee of success, but for me it, together with being stubborn, is undoubtedly a need in the way towards reaching the personal and professional reward.
How do you think it is possible to make girls more aware that engineering studies are for everyone (without gender exclusion). I love the platforms for space launchers but I also enjoy going by car and looking at the distribution plant for the high voltage electric lines at the outsides of (my) Cáceres. I like how a tower crane looks in the middle of a city, or of a harbor quay for goods, or of an oil platform. I feel impressed by submarines and passionate about the guts of an aircraft engine. How a space launcher ignites is a mesmerising event for me, as well as, once on a flight, how the rocket makes use of its stages one by one. I am still fascinated by the shape of the vacuum chambers of our lab, and you have no idea how much more when there is one of our thrusters firing inside them. And, I ask; I wonder about many questions continuously. What does one need to build from scratch any of these things I fix my sight on? or the things that other people are passionate about? ¿or the things that have not been thought of yet? What about what is needed to make something smaller and smaller, or more and more powerful. Why does something work? Why the end of life of things? Which are the procedures? Which are the processes? What about things too small or too big for the daily life of our eyes? Which are the reasons behind a limit?... Finishing a list with all the things that catch my attention every day, or the series of questions that come to my mind is not an easy task. Marie Curie said, "[...] Now is the time to understand more, so we may fear less". Let yourself be stimulated by the diversity of the knowledge and of the application of it. Allow yourself to make decisions about your future including in your deliberation process as much plural and quality information as you can. Look for things that you feel passionate about, that make you feel that your time and your effort deserve to prioritize. After asking yourself where you want to go, you owe to yourself to believe you can get it. The fear to ridicule or to fail to prevent being close to what you really need to apply for success, i.e. to start, and what you really need to decide, that is, to feel you working towards your goal. I am pretty sure you could not find a non-misogynist argument to make the gender of the subject to be a relevant aspect in the paragraph above in the context of an ideal equal society. So, if you are a woman or a non-binary person and you feel somehow that a place is not for you just because of the preset gender social roles, I swear to you that you are not alone, we are many, everywhere and since the beginning. On our side, we are working for becoming more and more present, and, more and more visible, to help change the statistics. Do not let yourself/others make you feel small, just feel like a real rocket scientist 😉
Thank you very much Scherezade and we are sure that your ideas and suggestions will be very useful to our readers.