Lessons learned by renowned Women in Photonics 

  • On Wednesday, 21 april 2021


In 2015, the European Optical Society (EOS) launched the EOS Early Career Women in Photonics Award to honor a young female scientist who has made outstanding contributions to photonics. Since launching the awards, EOS has closely followed the career paths of the winners.

We will now share with you the backgrounds, motivations and individual career paths of the winners along the years, with priceless advice and guidance for those who follow in their footsteps. A clear consensus derived from the individual discussions with the women and the advice to others persuing a career in photonics is clear: "Work hard and focused, be brave and network every chance you get." 

We hope the paths of these successful women will inspire you to find and follow your passion.

Nathalie Vermeulen  

Nathalie Vermeulen


Dr Ir. Nathalie Vermeulen is a tenure track professor at the Faculty of Engineering of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB).  She obtained her M.Sc. degree in Electrotechnical Engineering major in Photonics in 2004 and PhD degree in Engineering in 2008, both from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). She then continued her research in the Brussels Photonics (B-PHOT) research group with a FWO PostDoc research grant. In 2013, after obtaining a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC), she became professor at B-PHOT teaching laser physics. Her area of specialization is nonlinear-optical light generation and lasers. During her PhD she investigated both Raman laser sources and mid infrared solid- state lasers. Her current research activities are focused on graphene-based nonlinear optics and integrated diamond photonics. 

Dr. Vermeulen has received several prestigious awards such as the Newport – Spectra-Physics Research Excellence Award in 2007, the European Photonics21 Innovation Award in 2010 and the VUB Ignace Vanderschueren prize in 2014. She was awarded a prestigious ERC Starting Grant for her project NEXCENTRIC in 2013, and she coordinated a European Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) project called GRAPHENICS between 2013 and 2017.  

Photonics, and light as such, is fascinating to Nathalie, not only from a scientific perspective. 
“There is an artistic touch to light. Anything visual is connected to light, and light thus is essential in all visual art forms, like painting, sculpting, filmmaking, etc.” Her advice to other women is: “Take advantage of the chances given to you. Work hard, be brave. Don’t be afraid of the competition and never give up”. 


Laura Na Liu 

Laura Na Liu


Prof. Laura Na Liu received her Ph. D in Physics at University of Stuttgart. She then worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley and as a Texas Instruments visiting professor at Rice University, respectively. Before she became a professor at the Kirchhoff Institute for Physics at University of Heidelberg in 2015, she had worked as an independent group leader at the Max-Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems. In 2020, she joined University of Stuttgart and became the Director of the 2. Physics Institute.   

Her research interest is multi-disciplinary. She works at the interface between nanophotonics, biology, and chemistry. Her group focuses on developing sophisticated and smart optical nanosystems for answering structural biology questions as well as catalytic chemistry questions in local environments.  

Dr. Liu has received several prestigious awards such as, in 2014 she was awarded with the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Award from the German Research Foundation as well as an ERC starting grant from the European Research Council. She was also honored with the IUPAP Young Scientist Prize in Optics from the International Commission for Optics in 2016, the Rudolf-Kaiser Prize in 2018, the Kavli Foundation Early Career Award in Materials Science 2018, the Adolph Lomb Medal in 2019, the Rising Researcher Award (SPIE) in 2019, the EU-40 Materials Prize (E-MRS) in 2019, Fellow of the Max Planck School Matter to Life in 2019 and the Nano Letters Young Investigator Lectureship Award in 2019. In 2018 and 2019 she was also honored with Highly Cited Researcher by the Web of Science. In 2020, she was nominated as Max Planck Fellow and OSA fellow. 

Prof. Liu encourages anyone who would like to pursue a career in photonics to familiarize themselves with some classical literature on the topic, to name few; ‘Plasmonics: Fundamentals and Applications’ by Stefan Maier and ‘Principles of Nano-optics’ by Lukas Novotny. In Prof. Liu’s experience, women were unfortunately underestimated at times. Her advice for other women in the field is “at first be sure what you want to do in your life; once the decision is made, be very focused and make your signature contributions to the field.” 


Camille-Sophie Bres 

Camille sophie bres

Dr. Camille-Sophie Bres is an Associate professor at the Institute of Electrical Engineering within the School of Engineering of EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland. In 2002, She obtained her B.Eng. in Electrical Engineering from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. In 2007, She obtained her PhD degree in Electrical Engineering from Princeton University, New Jersey, United States. From 2007 to 2011, she was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California San Diego, United States, within the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.  In July 2011 she joined the Institute of Electrical Engineering at EPFL as a tenure track assistant professor and head of the Photonic Systems Laboratory and was promoted to associate professor in 2019. Her research interests are centred on leveraging and enhancing nonlinear optical processes in waveguides for ultrafast signal processing, light generation and sensing. Along her leading her research group, she is also passionate about teaching. She teaches both undergraduate and graduate students educating future engineers and scientists. 

In 2002, she received the Gordon Wu Fellowship for her graduate studies, and the NSF CIANs Diversity Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2009. She was awarded an ERC starting Grant MATTISSE in 2012, ERC consolidator grant PISSARRO in 2017 and ERC proof-of-concept grant SWIP in 2019. In 2020 she became an OSA. 

As a woman in photonics, she believes that this field is still dominated by men, and women face unconscious biases, and maybe even some conscious ones. Her advice for other women in the area is that “If you are passionate about making a career in photonics, the opportunities are there. So, try to put aside doubts or uncertainties if there are any. After all, there are many very well established and successful women in photonics!” 


Francesca Calegari  


Dr. Francesca Calegari is a professor of physics at the University of Hamburg and she leads the Attosecond Science division at DESY. She obtained her M.Sc. degree in Physics, from the University of Milan (Università degli Studi di Milano) Milan, Italy in 2005. In 2009, She obtained her PhD degree in Physics from the Polytechnic University of Milan (Politecnico di Milano), Milan, Italy. She worked as a Staff researcher at the Institute for Photonics and Nanotechnologies (IFN) of the Italian National Research Council (CNR), Milan, Italy almost for 5 years (Dec 2011 – Aug 2016) 

In 2017, she received ICO prize and the Ernst Abbe medal from the International Commission of Optics. She also received ERC starting grant, STARLIGHT – Steering attosecond electron dynamics in biomolecules with UV/XUV light pulses, 1.5 million € (2015-2020). In 2018, she received the Zdenek Herman MOLEC Young Scientist Prize. In addition, she has received the fellowship from the OSA in 2020. 

In her view, this is the right moment in history. A lot of institutions are pushing women to get in the top positions. Her advice to other women wanting to pursue a career in photonics: “Push to get good results! Do a lot of networking.” 


Ripalta (Patty) Stabile 

Patty ripalta

Dr. Patty Stabile is an Associate Professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering, Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). She received her MSc (with honors) in electrical engineering from the Politecnico of Bari (IT) in 2004. In 2005, she joined the National Nanotechnology Laboratory in Lecce (IT), where she received her PhD in Nanoscience in 2008. She moved to the TU/e COBRA Research Institute, where she was appointed as a Postdoctoral Researcher in 2009 and as an Assistant Professor in 2014 within Electro-Optical Communication (ECO) system group. In 2011 she has been visiting scientist at University of Cambridge (UK), hosted by prof. Ian White, within the Photonics Research group, and in 2018 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the Quantum Photonics group, hosted by prof. Dirk Englund. She is board member of the IEEE Photonics Benelux Chapter since 2016 and member of the TU/e Young Academy of Engineering. She is author and co-author of more than 150 journal and conference papers in prestigious photonics conferences and involved in several EU projects (Passion, Twilight, etc..). She is expert in Indium Phosphide large-scale photonic integrated switch matrices for application in next generation optical networks as well as neuromorphic photonics.  

She believes that a career in photonics for a woman can work out nicely. “Photonics requires passion and originality, and women are very much creative and passionate. Photonic integration requires precision and being pragmatic, and women are the best in this too. In other words, photonics is eager for women”! 

In her view, “There are not yet many women in photonics, which sometimes makes difficult to network and easier to isolate. Do believe in yourself and start first: ‘Hello, may I introduce myself?’ and do this many many many times. It will eventually pay off!”




The EOS Early Career Women in Photonics Award will again be nominated in 2021, at the CLEO-Europe/EQEC Award Ceremony.

Applications open until May 18 2021. 

APPLY NOW: https://www.europeanoptics.org/pages/distinctions/awards/early-career-women.html  



In 2015, due to the high level of applicants, the Early Career Women in Photonics Award was divided into two categories. The awards went to Prof. Laura Na Liu and Prof. Nathalie Vermeulen jointly. Prof. Laura Na Liu and Prof. Nathalie Vermeulen won the award in the Fundamental and the Applied/Engineering category, respectively.  
Special recognition was given to two other outstanding applications: Francesca Calegari (National Research Council of Italy – Institute for Photonics and Nanotechnologies (CNR – IFN) and Camille-Sophie Bres (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)). 
In 2016, the award went to Dr. Camille-Sophie Brès for her outstanding research and worked on Fiber and Waveguide Optics. Special recognition were given to: Ripalta (Patty) Stabile, Technische Universiteit Eindhoven and Isabelle Staude, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena.  

In 2015 and 2016, the awards were presented in Germany, Munich and Berlin, respectively. 

award women