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Female-friendly Physics Makes a Duquesne Difference

The Duquesne University physics department is not typical.

Of all of the bachelor-degree granting physics programs in the United States, 47 percent have no female professors, according to the American Institute of Physics. At Duquesne, the department chair, Dr. Simonetta Frittelli, is female. Two other women are among the seven faculty members. That's three of seven-43 percent female, three times the national average.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the percentage of Duquesne female physics graduates has risen from 25 percent in 2013 to 50 percent in 2015.

Female-friendly physics at Duquesne is not new. Since 1974, a woman has always been on the physics faculty. Frittelli became the fourth female in the department when she joined in 1997, yet, she observed, "the situation for females in physics is drastic, worse than for any of the other sciences."

Gender doesn't matter in physics itself. What does matter is drawing students into a career pipeline expanding so rapidly that, some say, needed positions will go unfilled. What does matter is attracting young women who have the curiosity and intellectual abilities to contribute, whether it's theoretical and gravitational physics (Frittelli's specialty), other faculty specialties of creating materials for magnetic applications, building atomic instruments or confirming nuclear properties with big accelerators.

"Attracting and retaining the interest of more females in science subjects is important to the field," said Dr. Philip Reeder, dean of the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences. "By offering programs that reach individuals typically under-represented in the sciences, Duquesne contributes to building a pool of strong, diverse scientists for our future."

The male-dominated science culture is solid, especially in the United States, noted Frittelli, who grew up in Argentina. Her female faculty colleagues are from Romania and Algeria. Yet, she's seeing more girls pursuing physics-at least at Duquesne. They might be the only girls in their schools applying to physics programs, Frittelli noted.

"The pipeline is broken, starting right in middle school," she said. "By the time they get to high school, very few girls even sign up for AP physics.

"I'm very happy at Duquesne; female representation in the program has never been an issue," Frittelli said. "We have been an example."

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.