Arianna Colón Cesaní is an undergraduate theoretical physicist at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez (UPRM). She works with the CMS Experimental Particle Physics Research Group at UPRM. Arianna recently founded Women in Physics-Puerto Rico. After graduating, Arianna plans to pursue a PhD in astroparticle physics and continue doing research in her field.
Women in Physics-Puerto Rico seeks to promote an inclusive, diverse, and equal environment in Physics while empowering women.
How did you get into STEM?
I always had an interest in how the world around me works. From big things such as planets to small things such as “how much force is needed to maintain a cup of water between my fingers?” Growing up I leaned more towards the arts, nevertheless, my interest in science was very much present. At around 14 years old, movies such as “Interstellar” and “The Theory of Everything” came out, and I instantly knew that I wanted to be a scientist; to one day study and work on innovative theories about our universe like Stephen Hawking. One thing led to another and I narrowed it down to astrophysics. Now at 20, I’m a third-year theoretical physics student at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez (UPRM). About a year ago, I joined the CMS Experimental Particle Physics Research Group at UPRM, given my new interest in pursuing a PhD in astroparticle physics.
What does the average day in your field for you look like?
Since I’m still an undergraduate student, my typical day includes taking university courses, a lot of studying, and conducting introductory particle physics research with the CMS Collaboration. I process data from the Compact Muon Solenoid at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider and create Python programs to facilitate data interpretation.
Who inspires you in STEM?
I am mostly inspired by all of the women scientists throughout history who didn’t get the recognition they deserved in the scientific community, or were unable to pursue their professional dreams as a result of racism, homophobia and our patriarchal society, as well as those who overcame these systemic barriers and succeed in their field. Women scientists such as Mileva Marić, Katherine Johnson, Marie Curie, and Mary Jackson are my biggest inspirations.
How would you describe your research interests?
My research interests include high energy physics, astroparticle physics, and thermodynamics. Some day I hope to work on research areas such as dark matter detection, galaxy formation, black holes, or quantum gravity.
What’s your experience been as a woman in STEM, especially a field like physics?
My experience as a woman in STEM has been challenging at times. A male-dominated field such as physics can create strong feelings of imposter syndrome and insecurity. I’ve experienced many passive-aggressive comments about switching my major or “putting family first” over the years, and if I were a man I’m sure those comments would never come up. Nevertheless, I teamed up with a colleague last year to establish the first and only women in physics group in Puerto Rico. Our goal in Women in Physics-Puerto Rico is to tackle gender discrimination in our field and inspire women to join and continue their professional careers in physics. I also attended two conferences for undergraduate women in physics by the American Physical Society in Northwestern University and Black Hills State University. They provided amazing advice and tools to succeed in my field and have completely changed my experience as a woman in STEM.
What’s been your most exciting experience in STEM?
My most exciting experience in STEM has definitely been getting to compete in the NASA RASC-AL 2019 competition as a freshman. It was my first experience collaborating with other students and scientists, and it was the first time that a team from Puerto Rico was competing. We took home all of the prizes, got our paper published, and appeared on NASA’s website. I will never forget the joy I felt, and I am forever thankful that I was given the opportunity to be a part of something so big, even though I was so inexperienced in my field.
How did you found Women in Physics-PR?
In 2019, I founded Women in Physics-Puerto Rico (WiP-PR) with my colleague Tamara González Acevedo and our counselor Nohely Miranda Colón at UPRM. We had always dreamed of starting a women in physics group, and when the APS Women in Physics Grant came up, we knew we couldn’t waste the opportunity. We quickly got to work and made the deadline. Later, we were notified that we had been awarded the grant and we announced the great news at CUWiP 2020 in Black Hills State University! Since then, WiP-PR has been dedicated to female empowerment in physics and breaking down the barriers which have kept women from pursuing and completing science degrees for so long. We actively support women’s emotional, social, and professional growth throughout their careers in physics.
What’s something about your field that you wish others knew about?
I wish more people knew, specially the younger students, that there are a huge amount of opportunities in this field. Physics applies to everything and it is necessary to make scientific discoveries and advances in most fields. There are plenty of job opportunities out there, and you will learn a lot of valuable transferable skills throughout your professional journey.