Tatiana Novikova

Ecole Polytechnique IP Paris, France

For pioneering contributions to the study of polarized light and its applications in Mueller polarimetry for metrology in microelectronics and biomedicine.

Tatiana Novikova came to physics through her love of math. In school, she always loved math because she excelled in the subject and was inspired to keep studying it. Paired with the example of her parents, both engineers, Tatiana says it was “natural” to pursue math as a career. When she began her degree at Moscow State University, she was pleased to find the first year was full of rigorous math courses. In the second year, the addition of physics courses to the schedule surprised her. Facing the challenge head-on, she learned to appreciate how math could complement and enhance the work of physicists. After graduation, she worked in hot plasma modeling, which set the stage for a rewarding career.

Tatiana moved to France to join her husband, a physicist and permanent member of staff at Ecole Polytechnique, and she began working in the same lab on plasma modelling for industrial applications. Another group in the same Lab was doing optics, and she was intrigued with the potential of using computational modeling to help their work. Once the contract on the plasma has come to an end, she was offered a position in the optics group, which she happily accepted. Over the years, she has been able to work in many areas in optics, including metrology, remote sensing and biomedical applications, and today Tatiana is a Head of the Characterization and Modelling Division at the Laboratory of Thin Films and Interfaces in Ecole Polytechnique IP Paris, France.

Tatiana’s favorite professional moments are ones where she can use math to interpret and improve optical experiments. She remembers when the experimental results and her modeling didn’t line up. Each time, she suggested changes and asked the right questions of the experimentalists, and each time their reaction, though never initial, was full of appreciation and excitement. Tatiana remembers after solving one of these problems in remote sensing with polarized light, the researchers “wrote to me in capital letters, YOU ARE RIGHT!” She says that while the results of the experiment may not be groundbreaking, she loves being able to prove that “math works, and physics needs mathematics as a support, especially in optics.”

In her work today, Tatiana enjoys the freedom of her position. She can work on things that interest her. The discussions with colleagues sometimes lead to entirely new research areas, which is stimulating for Tatiana. She also gets encouraged when her work has a real-life application. A current project involves biomedical imaging with polarized light, and a highlight is always “[when] you see something invisible before, and especially when a medical doctor says, ‘Wow! I have never seen images like this...Beautiful!’” In looking more broadly, Tatiana observes that hard core optics still plays an important role. To scientists just starting research in optics, she advises, “Go on and do not hesitate…despite a long history of discoveries in optics, there is a lot of bright future ahead.”

Photo Credit: Tatiana Novikova

Profile written by Samantha Hornback