ELIZABETH TURNER WORCESTER

ELIZABETH TURNER WORCESTER

1995 initiate of Epsilon Phi (Georgia Institute of Technology)

Center Moriches, New York

Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrases “neutrino oscillation” and “rare kaon decay”?
 
It’s a question that may result in a blank stare for a fair number of people. But for Dr. Elizabeth Turner Worcester, it is an exciting opportunity to research elementary particles and the probability of change in them that brings us closer to answering one of the fundamental questions of the universe: Why do we exist?
 
A physicist at Brookhaven National Lab (BNL), Elizabeth is helping to lead U.S. particle physics in an ambitious and exciting initiative to precisely measure properties of elemental particles called neutrinos. “The measurements we make with this experiment will help answer the question of how the matter that makes up everything in the universe came to be,” she explained. “This experiment is the highest priority for U.S. particle physics in its timeframe.”
 
Elizabeth has had a significant scientific leadership role in the development of this long-baseline neutrino oscillation experiment and has been chosen to speak about it at multiple international conferences, including the Workshop on the Intermediate Neutrino Program at BNL, the Neutrino Oscillation Workshop in Conca Specchiulla, Italy, and the European Physical Society Conference on High-Energy Physics in Stockholm, Sweden.
 
In addition to scientific contributions, she also helps guide the next generation of particle physicists by mentoring postdoctoral researchers and students at the high school, undergraduate and graduate levels. And she has been involved in public outreach projects, communicating the importance of scientific research to the public.
 
Elizabeth became interested in science at a very young age. She read A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, which she found to be very inspiring. “It laid out how the details of understanding physics explain everything about the universe. The stuff we are studying was very applicable,” she said. “On a less grand scale, I enjoyed the work. Math problems were always just fun for me, plus it takes a certain amount of confidence to think you can do it.”

It isn’t any wonder that Elizabeth graduated from Georgia Tech with honors. While there, she assisted with supernova research at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, a project that contributed to the awarding of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics to three astronomers for the discovery that the expansion of the universe is speeding up. She went on to earn her master’s degree in physics at UCLA and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.
 
As a woman working in a male-dominated field, Elizabeth recognized certain challenges but was determined to persevere. Although she is committed to her work and excited by the project she is working on, her accomplishments have not come at the expense of her family. With three children between 11 and 5 years of age, that is no small feat.
 
“I took time off from research when they were younger,” Elizabeth said. “The oldest was born when I was in grad school, the second just after I defended my Ph.D. I was a stay-at-home mom for four years because of the travel required that would keep me away.”
 
Her husband, also a physicist, is supportive of her work and took time off from his position, as well, to stay home after she returned to work. “He still takes on the bulk of the home maintenance and daily activities. He works part time to allow me to do the hours I need to do,” she said.
 
By taking time off between her studies and current career, Elizabeth aims to encourage other young women to pursue careers in the sciences. “As a woman who took time off from work in a male-dominated field to be at home with my children while they were babies, I hope that I am paving the way for other women who are trying to balance a scientific career with family life.”
 
Elizabeth credits Alpha Chi Omega for the experience she gained while in the chapter. “This lesson of how to relate to a diverse group of people and see the potential for friendship and collaboration has been valuable in my career, in which I collaborate with scientists from around the world,” she said.
 
“I think it’s easy to assume your best relationships will be with people easiest to relate to because they are very much like you,” she continued. “What I have found is the people who are my closest friends are people I don’t have all that much in common with on the surface. It certainly applies in international relations. If you are open-minded to the way of others, you may learn something and see things you can do better.”

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