Lauren Hayward Si er ens: The power thinker
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.