Visualizing Women in Science, Mathematics and Engineering
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  • Susan Coppersmith

    Professor of physics at the University of Chicago, Susan Coppersmith specializes in theoretical condensed matter physics, studying the complex properties of materials that are far from thermal equilibrium. Examples include glass-if it were in equilibrium, it would be crystal-and granular materials, since each grain is big enough to make thermal fluctuations negligible.

    Like many scientists who conduct their research in a university setting, Coppersmith struggles to prevent other responsibilities such as faculty meetings, teaching, meeting with students, and writing grant proposals, from crowding out her research. In addition to the quest for balance within her career, Coppersmith and her husband must balance personal considerations about where to live with professional considerations while both of them pursue their careers. Currently, they have a commuter marriage: he works in New York and she works in Chicago.

    While she was growing up in Pennsylvania, Coppersmith was drawn to science because she felt like a "social misfit," and science seemed like an objective undertaking where social skills didn't matter. In fact, Coppersmith would realize that people skills are very important in the scientific world: "social forces have a great impact on how science is done." But the challenges of research provide their own rewards. Coppersmith encourages young people to pursue careers in science if this is where their interest lies, rather than pursuing a career merely for the financial payoff: "What's in it for them is the opportunity to really understand how the world works (or at least a little piece of it)."

    After receiving her B.S. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1978, and her Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1983, Coppersmith went on to work at the Brookhaven National Laboratories as a Research Associate (1983-1985), to complete a post-doc at Princeton University (1986-1987), and to work at A.T. & T. and Bell Laboratories, ultimately as a distinguished member of the technical staff (1990-1995). She has been a professor at the University of Chicago since 1995. She was awarded a fellowship from the American Physical Society in 1992 and one from the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1999.