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  • Writer's pictureCarla Faria

Joseph Thomson Medal 2021

Updated: Dec 4, 2021

Dear all, This is to let you know that I am the 1st South American to win the Institute of Physics Thomson Medal & Prize. Thanks to all the people who supported me along the way, who are a lot. The prize is not only for me, but also for my whole group, who went through all the storms together. We have been working hard on these problems for 1.5 decades!

The prize was "for distinguished contributions to the theory of strong-field laser-matter interactions, particularly the development of semi-analytical models bringing together attoscience and mathematical physics that provide vital tools to the physics community."

Below you will see the official mention. It's great to see that hard work pays off.

I was also one of many people at UCL awarded by the IoP this year. Below you will see the press release:

Added notes (because science doesn't happen in a vacuum):

Further to the physics, it's important to stress that, unfortunately, I am an atypical winner of such an award. It goes more often than not to white European males, and at some point there was even a joke in the scientific community that they were all called Brian! There is lack of representation everywhere, and many initiatives that have been created benefit mostly white women -- one hears a lot about "women" and "minorities" as if they couldn't intersect.

I was born in the North of Brazil, I am a parda (woman of mixed Afro-European + Indigenous ancestry), and even within Brazil we are discriminated a lot. We suffer a lot of xenophobia in the South/Southeast, where the best Universities are, which is also coupled with racism. Brazil is a massive country and the more developed the region, the whiter the population. Most of us really struggle to finish our studies, and a permanent academic position in the South-East is practically off limits. The Northern states (located in the Amazon region) are plundered for their resources. Sadly, you only see the state of Para' (where I was born) in the news when there are fights between land-owners and indigenous people, or some really bad scandal involving the destruction of the Amazon. This means that, although I am fortunate to come from a rich family, who provided with me a safety net, and have an amazing partner, who has supported me throughout, I have been through many difficult situations. If t is that hard in Brazil, now imagine to go all the way and become a full professor in the UK. You hear people in the Global North oblivious to this matter, saying we are all "latinos" and putting a white person from the South, someone of mixed Black heritage from Para', or an unambiguously Black person from Bahia (or even people from Mexico!) in the same pot. My advice to those people is to learn and inform themselves before talking nonsense.

I have received a lot of congratulations this week, from friends, family, students and colleagues (also from some people I had to Google, because I had no idea who they were). Many pointed out they are impressed about what my group and I have achieved with limited resources, facing internal and external enemies, and academic gate keeping on several fronts. Clearly, to storm the gates of hell one needs an army, a network of allies, and sometimes guerilla tactics (which as a good South American I will use from time to time). I have not achieved this alone and many times have publicly spoken against the "lone genius" myth. Still, it's an achievement, as many glass ceilings that have been smashed by me in the past. I am the first of many things, and if there is this added note here is because I hope I won't be the last.

Thanks for reading. Stay safe. Take good care of yourselves.

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