Visualizing Women in Science, Mathematics and Engineering
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  • Kathryn Moler

    Kathryn Moler fabricates microscopic sensors and uses them to study the magnetic behavior of superconductors. Unlike most metals which dissipate power as they heat up, superconductors are materials that can carry current, typically at very low temperatures, without losing any power. A decade ago some materials were discovered that superconduct at slightly higher temperatures, and scientists are still trying to understand how and why. Moler and a collaborator at IBM named John Kirtley have chipped away at this problem by imagining critical magnetic features called vortices in high-temperature superconductors, which have enabled them to demonstrate that one of the predictions of a popular theory for high-temperature superconductivity was off by a factor of 10. Moler is inspired by the possibility of doing elegant measurements on complicated systems and getting precise, reproducible answers. Scientific research has taught her that underneath the messy, everyday physical world are simple and elegant physical laws, which are exhilarating to discover, even if doing so takes years of hard work.

    Moler's greatest influences growing up were her parents, who made science seem like fun, and a junior high school science teacher, who inspired the class to think on their own and to engage in independent research projects. The greatest obstacle she faced was internal: it involved learning to take the risk of asking stupid questions. Moler explains, "It took me years before I realized that the smartest people I knew were the ones who were willing to admit, 'I don't get it.'" Moler obtained both her bachelor's degree and her Ph.D. in Physics from Stanford University (in 1988 and 1995 respectively), where she is currently an Assistant Professor. She is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, including the National Science Foundation Career Award (1999-2003). Like most science professors, Moler divides her time among preparing lectures, writing scientific papers, traveling, and working in the lab. When she isn't busy with these tasks, she enjoys gardening, reading, and bicycling.