Awards, Research, People, Technology & engineering

Physics postdoc and mentor awarded prestigious LOral fellowship

By Robert Sanders

Sydney Schreppler
Postdoc Sydney Schreppler in her physics department laboratory. Courtesy of L'Oréal.
Sydney Schreppler

Postdoc Sydney Schreppler in her physics department laboratory. Courtesy of L'Oréal.

Sydney Schreppler, a postdoctoral fellow in physics and UC Berkeley Ph.D. who in her spare time mentors women majoring in science and served as head coach for the campus’s club women’s lacrosse team, has been awarded one of five 2017 For Women in Science Fellowships by L’Oréal USA.

The 29-year-old Schreppler, who is building and testing superconducting qubits for use in quantum computers and other devices, will receive $60,000 to further her research.

The awards were announced this week and, since 1998, have gone to women scientists at a critical stage in their careers.

“I am really happy I am able to bring the award to Berkeley, because Berkeley has been very good to me during my PhD and my postdoc,” said Schreppler, 29. “There is a reason I stuck around here: I really like the physics department here and I love all the students and staff in the physics department. I am definitely grateful to the campus and the university.”

Born and raised in Delaware, Schreppler obtained both her M.S. and Ph.D. in physics from UC Berkeley, working in the lab of Dan Stamper-Kurn. Both here and at her undergraduate alma mater, Yale, where she played for two years on their Division I lacrosse team, she found herself the rare woman in a mostly male major.

“The pertinent measure is when you are sitting in the physics classroom and you look to your left and look to your right, ‘How many other people are women?'” she said. “It is quite low: 1 in 4 at Berkeley, which is better than the national average of 1 in 5.”

Nevertheless, a very supportive female chair at Yale and supportive women postdoc and graduate student mentors at Berkeley were “really important to my future as a research scientist,” she said. “I want to emphasize my role as a mentor to younger grad students.”

To do that, she is using some of the L’Oréal funds to hire a female graduate student mentee. Since Schreppler was hired in 2016, she has also been the postdoctoral coordinator with the Society for Women in the Physical Sciences (SWIPS), which offers mentoring, career panels and other professional advice to women and underrepresented minorities, ranging from from undergraduates all the way to young faculty members in physics, chemistry, astronomy and earth and planetary sciences.

Schreppler in the lab

Schreppler is trying to find ways of getting qubits to talk to one another. (Photo courtesy of L’Oréal)

Her interest in mentoring young women in science was one of the main reasons she applied for the fellowship: the L’Oréal awards not only honor women’s contributions to research, but also promote mentoring.

“This year’s For Women in Science fellows exemplify the many contributions that women are making to STEM fields,” noted Frédéric Rozé, president and CEO of L’Oréal USA. “L’Oréal has a legacy of innovation that would not have been possible without the women who make up the majority of our scientific workforce. Today, more than ever, we are proud to support our country’s most accomplished women scientists at a key moment in their careers, and to empower them to continue their groundbreaking work.”

The other recipients of the fellowship are from Yale University, the University of Nevada, Reno, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School.

Schreppler currently works in the laboratory of physics professor Irfan Siddiqi, where she searches for the optimum ways of communicating with the quantum bits, or qubits, that one day will be used to make quantum computers and other devices. She is finishing up a recent experiment using squeezed microwaves to probe these qubits, but is exploring other techniques for getting groups of qubits to talk to one another.

“We are where the computing world was when the first transistors were being developed 60 years ago, when transistors were being developed and packaged into integrated circuits,” she said. “We are building small superconducting circuits and using them not only to construct computers but also to make precision measurements and test the laws of physics — pretty much anything you can think to try, we are trying it.”

Schreppler and the other fellows will receive their awards during a ceremony for the fellows at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 9.

L'Oréal USA Announces 2017 For Women In Science Fellows