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Interview with Rosa Ana Pérez Herrera on the II Workshop Women in Optics and Photonics

Recently, we had the pleasure of interviewing Rosa Ana Pérez Herrera. 

Rosa has a degree in Telecommunications Engineering from the University of Cantabria and a PhD from the Public University of Navarra with mention of European Doctor, thesis for which she was awarded with the Extraordinary Doctorate Prize by the Public University of Navarra. 

From 2007 to the present, she has been teaching at the same university.

Through this interview, we can learn more about her vision of the role of women in engineering, along with the expectations for the II Workshop Women in Optics and Photonics.




In 2019, the I Workshop Women, Optics and Photonics was held. The pandemic years have passed and now we are just around the corner of the 2nd Edition of the same Workshop. What are we going to see and learn about this year?


This 2nd Workshop is proposed as a space in which we will establish new professional networks and strategies to combat gender inequality thanks to the talks, round tables and spaces for debate and networking that we have prepared.

The conference will be held on March 17, in Salamanca, at the Fonseca School. We will have the participation of three researchers who will give presentations: Cristina Flors (IMDEA-Nanoscience), Carolina Romero (USAL) and Alessandra Carmichael (Indiana University School of Optometry).

They will talk about their scientific work, which is framed within the fields of knowledge of different SEDOTICA committees. In addition, we will take advantage of this event to present the SEDOPTICA Honorary Member Award to Prof. Laura Lechuga.

We will also have the opportunity to share ideas and discuss in round tables around two topics:

- The transversality in the dynamics of gender discrimination, where women from areas as different as art, philosophy, mathematics.... will participate. In this round table we will share experiences, problems and common ways to face them.

- Equality policies in academia, in which we will have representatives from different institutions, universities, ICTS and research centers to share the measures they put in place to curb the problems arising from sexism.


Are you satisfied with the reception that the Workshop has had this year among companies in the optical and photonics sector?

The truth is that we are all very satisfied with the response we have had from our national business sector. This great reception has encouraged us to continue with these workshops focused mainly on making visible the role of women researchers and professionals within the different branches of the field of optics and photonics.

Some companies, as was the case of ProCareLight, showed from the beginning their willingness to participate and collaborate with this event, which has been a great help in the organization of the whole event.


How is the pool of young women scientists? Have you noticed an increase in the number of girls who want to dedicate themselves to research?

If we look at the general numbers within the Women in Optics and Photonics Area (MOF) of SEDOPTICA ( we can see that the number of women doing research in these areas has a slight upward trend.

However, if I make a reading of the particular situation around me, in the laboratory where I work, this trend has not yet been reflected in the number of women scientists who are developing their research careers in this area of work. The percentage of women in our laboratories is still low and still far from what would be expected in a truly egalitarian environment.

Proof of all this are the results of a statistical study that we carried out within the MOF area in 2021. This study shows a quantitative statistical analysis of the theses read in Spain in the last five years. For this purpose, we used the database of the Ministry of Education TESEO, where, as a rule, all the theses defended in our country are collected.

Each of them was classified according to UNESCO codes, a maximum of four, and a classification was made of all the descriptors that include Optics and Photonics topics, according to the sex of the author of the thesis.

This study was presented at the IEEE EDUCON2022 congress in March 2023 and also gave rise to the publication entitled "Gender analysis on the Ph.D. theses defended in Spain in the field of Optics and Photonics".


We need to talk about safety in the research world. Do you think we can do better? Is there a lack of training or is it simply a question of priorities?

The field of safety in the research world still has a lot of room for improvement. While it is true that there is more and more training concerning safety systems in laboratories and companies dedicated to optics or photonics, all these safety measures are not always properly implemented in our workplaces.  

In my opinion, training in the field of laboratory safety should be mandatory before carrying out any experimental work that may pose some kind of risk to the person performing it.

In this respect, we still have a lot to learn from European centers where the use of experimental equipment is only allowed once the necessary training for its correct and safe use has been carried out. 


What security measures have you implemented in your laboratory, in your research projects, throughout your career?

The laboratory in which I have carried out most of my research activity has implemented different safety and protection systems.

One of the lasers we use reaches 5 watts of output power, so, although most of the studies we do are guided optics, where the light travels through the inside of the optical fiber, it is essential to use eye protection equipment.

The use of suitable goggles to protect us in case the light leaves the guide through which it travels, as well as the correct indication that experiments with high power levels are being carried out inside the rooms, are a priority in terms of occupational safety measures.


What lines of innovation in optics and photonics do you think will be most disruptive in the near future?

It is difficult to know with certainty which lines of research in optics and photonics will be the most promising, but some of those that are currently under development seem likely to have a considerable impact in the near future, such as quantum photonics or nonlinear optics.

Quantum photonics allows us to combine quantum mechanics with photonics technology to generate and detect individual photons, which could be very useful for applications in quantum communications, or in quantum information processing.

In the case of nonlinear optics, its development opens the door to the creation of optical devices that change the frequency of light and are useful for applications such as the generation of high-frequency light, frequency conversion or the detection of weak signals.

Also very promising are the fields of metamaterials for the fabrication of novel optical devices; or optogenetics, which will allow us to control the activity of living cells through the use of photonic sensors. However, all this still requires a great deal of research work with, hopefully, a gender perspective.  


Many of you are researchers who are also popularizers. Social networks and the media help to explain scientific advances. What programs, series, films or influencers can we highlight in our field?

It is true that popularization is a topic in vogue right now, however, photonics does not receive the attention from the general media that, in our opinion, it deserves. With photonics being a discipline that has been labeled as an Essential Technology by the EU, it is rarely mentioned per se in articles, despite having been key to four Nobel Prizes since 2017.

Also noteworthy is the gender bias observed in outreach, but that would give for another topic of discussion. In fact, it is something we addressed in one of our webinars. On that occasion we had Anna Morales Melgares, who runs the YouTube channel @sizematters. In it she talks about nanotechnology, something closely related to photonics.

We can also name Conchi Lillo, who does outreach on vision, from her field of work, biology and neuroscience.

On the other hand, it is clear that the audiovisual media help us, however, they do not always do it in the best way. One of the most recent and viral cases is the series "The Big Bang Theory", which tends to represent scientists using the most geeky clichés, but has undoubtedly brought many people closer to physics. 

On the other hand, we have movies like Madame Curie (, or Hidden Figures, which help to divulge those scientists who marked milestones. However, we can also find series or films that talk about those women who do science every day, such as The Director (; or more vindictive ones, such as Picture a Scientist.

From the role of influencers, we have seen in recent years a multitude of popularizers such as @La Hiperactina and many more, which bring non-specialized audiences closer to science.


Thank you very much for the organization of the Workshop, I'm sure it is being intense... If the Workshop were a laser, what characteristics would it have?

Great question, and not an easy one, but I would say that, if I had to find a relationship between this II Workshop Women in Optics and Photonics and a type of laser, it would be a highly coherent one. A laser that, in addition to having a high beam quality, would have a broad spectrum, representing the transversality that we are looking for in these initiatives.

In addition, and since we are ready to ask, it would be a supercontinuous laser capable of accommodating different areas of research that we all carry out together.