Maria Farsari received her first degree in 1992 from the Physics, University of Crete and her PhD in 1997 from the Physics Department, University of Durham, UK. The subject of her PhD was organic nonlinear optics. After graduating, Maria worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Universities of Durham and Sussex and as a Senior Optical Scientist for the security company DeLaRue Holographics. She is a founding member of Xsil Ltd, a Dublin-based company specializing in the design and manufacture of laser micro-machining equipment for the semiconductor industry.
Now Maria is a Research Director at the Institute of the Electronic Structure and Laser, Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas, where she joined in 2003. Her main research interests are light-based additive manufacturing, multi-photon lithography, laser-based nanofabrication, and materials processing using ultrafast lasers.
Maria, some of your current research interests are light-based additive manufacturing, multi-photon lithography, laser-based nanofabrication, and materials processing using ultrafast laser. What does research work in optics and photonics mean to you and what’s so special about it that you decided to devote your life and career to it?
I didn’t really choose optics-it was a series of coincidences that got me to work with lasers. My lucky break was the post-doc research I did at Sussex University, where we developed the first UV projection 3D printer. There I found out how to use light to build things, and it really turned my career.
Could you tell us a bit about your on-going projects?
My group works on applications of 3D micro-printing on photonics and architected materials. Photonics is something I’ve been doing all my life. I find the application of 3D printing in making architected materials, ie structures with tailored mechanical properties, fascinating. We have a new project starting soon on designing and building architectures trying to imitate nature. I’m really looking forward to that.
Currently you are the Research Director of the NLL Group, Laser Division, Institute of Electronic Structure and Laser (IESL), Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas (FORTH, Greece). Can you tell us about your experience and how it is to successfully manage a research team?
I have a great team, and I love working with them. However, everyone except me is on soft money. It is a continuous struggle to secure their funding, as we have minimal state help. It’s not fun knowing that the income of several families depends on you…
You have also developed part of your career in industry, what would say is the primary difference between academy and industry? What do they have in common?
I didn’t enjoy industry, as I had very little freedom as what to work on, and I found it boring. The industry I worked for was rather small, and too-customer oriented. Learning was not a priority, which is the main difference for me (apart from the salary, obviously!)
In your opinion, is it important to have gender policies in science?
Yes, the laser community can appear too intimidating, and women should be encouraged to take more senior position. This will not be done unless a minimum percentage of female managers is set. However, we also need to educate people that a woman’s place is at the top, and it doesn’t contradict the ‘mother’ or ‘family status’. I took part in a ‘leadership contest’ recently, where the male candidate was branded as ‘ambitious’, while the female candidate was ‘aggressive’. And this came from all sides.
Do you remember having suffered any kind of discrimination for being a woman in the course of your professional career?
Every single day in fact, when I’m expected to give up lab and office space without a fight. Also funding leadership is another issue-somehow, it is expected that the funding application leaders will be the male colleagues.
Do you think it is necessary to encourage scientific vocations in girls and young women? Have you ever thought about or carried out any kind of initiative to do that?
Yes, it is important for women to know that they can get to the top, while still having a happy family life. There are several mentoring initiatives taken by OSA and IEEE, where more established female researchers talk and advise young women in science, and I have participated in a few of those.