Lau­ren Hay­ward Si er ens: The power thinker

Elle (Canada) - - Society -

In high school in Win­nipeg, Lau­ren Hay­ward Sierens was drawn to all things sci­en­tific. While most girls didn’t be­come sci­en­tists, her teach­ers told her to dream hard and work harder to break bar­ri­ers. Even­tu­ally, she honed in on a field that com­bines com­puter sci­ence and physics. Now, about to get her doc­tor­ate from the world-renowned Perime­ter In­sti­tute for The­o­ret­i­cal Physics in Water­loo, Ont., she shares her pas­sion for con­densed mat­ter with younger stu­dents at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity in or­der to show that it’s pos­si­ble for them to fol­low their dreams, no mat­ter their gen­der.

“To be a wo­man in a male-dom­i­nated field is a unique op­por­tu­nity to act as a role model,” says the 28-year-old. “I en­cour­age stu­dents to push through the dif­fi­cult times. Be­ing part of a mi­nor­ity [in my field] has led to some chal­lenges—peo­ple im­ply­ing, for ex­am­ple, that I ac­com­plished some­thing be­cause I am a wo­man—but be­com­ing a physi­cist has mostly been a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Hay­ward Sierens can spend much of her day in front of a com­puter writ­ing code to pro­duce mod­els for ex­per­i­ments in su­per­con­duc­tiv­ity, in which elec­tric­ity uses no en­ergy as it passes through mat­ter. Right now, the phe­nom­e­non only oc­curs at ex­tremely low tem­per­a­tures. “But if you had a su­per­con­duc­tor that could con­duct elec­tric­ity at room tem­per­a­ture with no re­sis­tance, that would mean hav­ing elec­tric­ity with no en­ergy loss,” she says. “We could use it in power lines or for our com­put­ers, cell­phones, wash­ers and dry­ers.”

Al­ready pub­lished in the pres­ti­gious jour­nal Sci­ence, Hay­ward Sierens was se­lected in April to meet Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, a for­mer teacher and self-de­scribed geek who vis­ited the Perime­ter In­sti­tute to an­nounce fed­eral fund­ing for its fun­da­men­tal sci­ence re­search. “I ex­plained my re­search, and he asked in­sight­ful ques­tions,” she says. “He knew what we were do­ing and what a su­per­con­duc­tor is.” Once she be­comes “Dr.,” her next step will be to fash­ion a ca­reer that strikes a bal­ance be­tween her two pas­sions: pure re­search and ed­u­ca­tion. “Ba­si­cally,” she says, “I want to in­spire and en­cour­age the next gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents—men and women.” L.F.

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