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Optica reflections on science, life and freedom

Dr. Becky Bosco, APR - Senior Director of Corporate Communications, Optica

“Iranian women are showing the world what courage looks like, standing up for their very basic human rights in a historic movement, freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and autonomy as human beings are cornerstones of a just society and essential for the advancement of science,” 2022 Chemistry Nobel Laureate Carolyn Bertozzi in a Tweet.

The future of peace and democracy in Iran is at a crossroads: Iranian women’s decades-long struggle for freedom of choice could lead to positive change and might present a unique opportunity to achieve long-awaited reforms. We now have a chance to act in solidarity with the Iranian people and support Iranian women making an impact worldwide.

We asked Iranian women in the Optica community to share their experiences of working in the optical sciences. Yasaman Soudagar, Ph.D., Founder and CEO of Neurescence, Inc. and Optica Foundation Board of Directors past-member, shared how her Iranian heritage influenced her career journey.

“Although most university physics students in Iran are women, the general belief is that women cannot be physicists,” said Soudagar. “When I was in high school, I fell in love with both physics and biology. I chose physics to prove them wrong: women can become physicists. The choice to study physics worked to my advantage because it is possible to go to biology from physics, and now, I am combining optics with neuroscience. The best of both worlds!  In the Iranian culture, there is a solid emphasis on education. My education and the need to prove myself as an Iranian woman in physics have been major defining elements of my heritage in my career.”

An Optica student leader shared “Iran has one of the richest art heritages in world history. The beauty of its art and literature has infused and flourished its culture over the centuries. We are guided by values such as morality, hard work and knowledge. These pillars fuel my motivation to pursue my graduate studies in microelectronics. Even though Iran's patriarchal society has not always supported me as a woman studying engineering, I am confident in my career path. As Rumi, the Persian poet, said, ‘The wound is the place where the Light enters you.’ So I let the light in around me. Today, I can play with the light daily as I use light to perform biosensing experiments. I detect disease biomarkers using light interacting with engineered nanostructures. I am fortunate and proud to have the chance to contribute to impactful research with the potential to make the world a better place for everyone. I wish humankind to overcome gender barriers, racial inequality and any discrimination grounds to achieve a peaceful life and access to equal opportunities for everyone.

University of Ottawa professor and Optica Fellow Ebrahim Karimi remarked, “During my undergraduate study, less than 20% of my classmates were women, while the statistics changed dramatically later. Only seven years later, when I was a lecturer at the University of Kurdistan, this was doubled and passed half quickly. The Islamic Republic of Iran systematically banned women from going into basic sciences. Of course, knowing the history of the Islamic regime, being an anti-underrepresented group’s government, and suppressing women and minor visibilities. However, the brave women of Iran performed excellently and were usually ranked among the top 10% of national exams, despite the systematic discrimination. Nowadays, many Iranian raising-star women are either leading or group leaders at top-level research institutes around the globe. This gives me joy and hope for the young generations, bright and brave people who will make our world a better place.” Karimi was recently profiled in an Optica Community article and shares more about his experience in academia in Iran. Read “What doesn’t kill me” to learn more about Karimi.

"My eyes sparkled every time my father’s recitation of Shāhnāme reached the piece about the entrance of Gordafarid to the battlefield fighting for the victory of light over darkness. One of the few heroines in this masterpiece of Iranian epic poetry, she symbolizes bravery, strength, and wisdom," reflected an Optica Senior Member. "Many other fearless Iranian women have removed obstacles for generations throughout Iranian history but were rarely named or mentioned in official school textbooks. However, poetry has carried history inside as an interwoven element of Iranian culture. Many grew up inspired by these stories and learned to chase their desire to expand beyond the constraints and achieve the unimaginable. As part of this beloved diverse community of photonics and optics enthusiasts, I am filled with joy every time Iranian women are recognized for their advancements in science and engineering; the spark of Gordafarid’s determination is evident in their eyes."

Soudagar adds, “When I was in Iran, what bothered me the most was the knowledge that I would never be allowed to realize my full potential. Now, as an entrepreneur, I am stretched beyond imagination every day, and I have full confidence that my full potential will be realized. Knowing that I will allow nothing to hold me back is an excellent source of joy and peace!”

The ability to gain knowledge at our fingertips about events happening around the world is powerful, and enabled by optics. Optica’s Iranian members are leading the charge for scientific innovation. As a scientific professional society, we honor their bravery and the gravity of the moment.

Additional Optica statements on diversity and inclusion: Human Rights, Code of Conduct on Discrimination.

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