A "cool" role model for women in science

Published: Oct. 19, 2012

As a child, Deborah Jin remembers going to company holiday parties where most of the attendees were men and they assumed she must be there because of her physicist father. But they were mistaken. She was there because of her physicist mother.

When it comes to hurdles facing women interested in a career in science, “probably the biggest thing is the lack of role models,” she said. So it is appropriate that Jin, an international role model as an adjoint professor of physics at the University of Colorado Boulder and a fellow of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, has received the 2013 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science award.

Jin also is a fellow of JILA, a joint institute of CU-Boulder and NIST located on the CU campus. She teaches both undergraduate and graduate students and was one of five recipients who each will receive $100,000 at an awards ceremony in Paris next March. She was the only recipient in North America.

Physics runs in Jin’s family, where both of her parents were physicists. Her father taught physics at a university.

“It’s not like I considered a whole lot of careers,” she says with a smile when asked how she got interested in science. “Physicists have a certain way of thinking, and it rubs off on you.”

Jin was cited by the Women in Science awards jury “for having been the first to cool down molecules so much that she can observe chemical reactions in slow motion, which may help further understanding of molecular processes which are important for medicine or new energy sources.” The long-sought milestone was achieved at JILA in 2008.

The 15th Women in Science laureates were honored for demonstrating exceptionally original approaches to fundamental research in the physical sciences. The awards jury was chaired by Ahmed Zewail, winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in chemistry and a professor of chemistry and physics at the California Institute of Technology.

The other four 2013 laureates are from Nigeria, the United Kingdom, Japan and Brazil.

“These five outstanding women scientists have given the world a better understanding of how nature works,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. “Their pioneering research and discoveries have changed the way we think in various areas of the physical sciences and opened new frontiers in science and technology. Such key developments have the potential to transform our society.  Their work, their dedication, serves as an inspiration to us all.”

Jin has been an adjoint professor of physics at CU-Boulder since 1997. She earned her bachelor’s degree in physics from Princeton University and a doctorate from the University of Chicago.

Jin was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2005 and was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007.

She is the winner of numerous other awards, including the William Proctor Prize for Scientific Achievement in 2009, the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics in 2008, the I.I Rabi Prize of the American Physical Society in 2005, a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship also known as the “genius grant” in 2003 and a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2000.

Physics continues to run in the family. Jin’s husband, John Bohn, is also a fellow of JILA and a research professor of physics at CU-Boulder. They balance their work and family life with their 10-year-old daughter, Jaclyn, “who is excited about going to Paris,” she said.

Established in 1998, the L’Oréal-UNESCO partnership is a long-term commitment to recognizing women in science and supporting scientific vocations. For Women in Science has grown into a global program that includes international, regional and national fellowships and an international network of more than 1,300 women in 106 countries.

For more information on the Women in Science Awards visit http://www.forwomeninscience.com.