Gabriela Gonzalez - 2018 SPIE Women in Optics Planner
Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Louisiana State University
Member and Former Spokesperson of LIGO Scientific Collaboration, USA
Country of Birth: Argentina
As a high school girl, I was very curious and always wanted to know why. I thought you could explain everything if you knew physics, and wanted to go to college to learn physics to understand the Universe, from atoms to planets.
I work with a large team of people building detectors of gravitational waves, and searching for tiny wavy signals in the noisy data produced. The waves are produced by stars and black holes far away, and we have already seen a couple of signals (the first!) produced from by black holes more than a billion years ago. The detectors are technological marvels with lasers traveling in vacuum for 2.5 miles to measure tiny changes in distances between mirrors, carefully suspended from glass fibers also in vacuum.
Moving far away from family to pursue my career has been the most difficult challenge. My husband (also a physicist) and I lived in different places for six years until finding a job together. I overcame this obstacle because my family always supported me, and my husband has always been my biggest fan. And the respect and support is mutual.
I wish somebody had convinced me that it didn't matter what other people thought of me. What matters is what I say and that I do my best. I used to always look for signs of other people liking what I do, or what I say - which they often do, but it doesn't matter if they don't, as long as I explain it well and it is true.
Ask questions! Most people, especially girls, are afraid to ask questions because they worry that questions expose ignorance. They don't, they express interest and curiosity, which is an essential quality for being a scientist! Finding the questions that don't have an answer yet is the most fun part of the job.