Mary Hemmeter is only nineteen, but she's already racked up plenty of research experience. In September, Mary went to a national conference on semiconductors. She won honorable mention in the awards ceremony, and she was the only college sophomore there.
We caught up with Mary and asked her about how she chose Michigan, what it's like working in a field where men far outnumber women, and, of course, we asked about her research.
Mary Hemmeter: We're looking at how electron spins behave in semiconductor materials, and we want to know this because there is a new field opening up. It's called spintronics. It's like electronics but it deals with electron spin rather than just the electric charge.
It's basically a binary system, you have spin up and spin down. And you can potentially use that to store data, like a computer stores data in binary. So that would be a really fast and efficient way to build a computer.
But we can't do that right now because we'll need to generate and be able to manipulate electron spins in semiconductors, and we don't have the technological abilities to do that right now.
I knew since high school that I wanted to study physics. So, you know, I did my google search, best physics schools in the country, and this one I think was number thirteen on the list. I think it's moved up since then (Editor's Note: U-M is number 11 now). It's a really good school, and I applied to a bunch of those schools, but they all cost a lot of money, and Michigan gave me a lot of financial aid, so.
There were some women in my physics classes last year, but they were more introductory classes. And I think there are definitely fewer and fewer. I knew one girl last year who had already declared a physics concentration. I'm declared. But I think she was the only other woman who declared. And now she left the university, so I'm not sure who else there is.*
There really—as I go on, there are fewer and fewer women. And it gets kind of awkward when you don't have that many women around to talk to. And you're just kind of stuck there.
But I think it's not the end of the world, definitely you can cross those barriers and getting through the coursework is really the most important thing.
I actually think that a lot of people don't understand that not everything works. A lot of times you'll do research for like a year and then it turns out that that didn't come to anything.
A lot of times you can bark up the wrong tree for a really long time and not get anything out of it. But when you do get something out of it, it definitely makes up for it. You get this warm fuzzy feeling and it makes up for the wasted time.
(*Editor's Note: We encourage readers to view the comments where Physics Professor Gus Evrard makes clarifying points about physics concentrators. Mary's perspective as a woman in the sciences is extremely valid, though we do want to disclose that approximately 24 percent of undergraduate physics concentrators are women.)