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Shouleh Nikzad

Lead, Advanced UV/Visible/NIR Detector Arrays, and Nanoscience, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, USA
Country of birth: Iran

Educational background: PhD, MSEE Applied Physics, California Institute of Technology, USA; BSEE Applied Physics, University of Southern California, USA

Shouleh NikzadWho or what inspired you to work in science/engineering?
When I was very young, I loved watching my cousin work in his home chemistry lab. It was a wonderful, magical realm. NASA's moon landing created a great excitement in me about science and technology. In high school, I read a book about the NASA Space program that inspired my dream (or rather my determination) to become a physicist and work for NASA. I was also fortunate to have excellent high school teachers and  parents who were encouraging and supportive.

What are the primary responsibilities of your current job?
I lead a group in research and development for cutting-edge scientific detector arrays and imagers. Our work is primarily in high-performance ultraviolet/visible/near infrared detector arrays, and low-energy particle detector arrays. We work on crystal growth techniques to modify the bandstructure of devices to produce high performance imagers, quantum dot-based devices, and nano-engineered structures.

What is the biggest challenge you have overcome in your career?
In addition to working with vastly different personalities, one of the biggest challenges I faced was the changing landscape of research funding and finding myself in the position of choosing between changing fields or taking charge and learning to bring in funds. I chose to learn, mostly by doing and trying, and not being afraid to fail.

What do you wish you had known when first starting out?
I wish I had talked more with my professors despite the discomfort. In my case, it was the language, but it could be anything. The key is to break through whatever barrier in order to benefit from the experience and advice.