Emma Lumiaro

Emma Lumiaro was born and grew up in Espoo, Finland, a town next to the capital, Helsinki and the home of Aalto University, where she did her bachelor’s degree in physics and her master’s degree in computer science. A girl scout in Finland, Emma loves hiking and camping, and also board games. (Lately, she’s been playing a lot of Bang, but also enjoys old-fashioned Catan.) She is now finishing her master’s thesis in Michele Ceriotti’s Laboratory of Computational Science and Modeling at EPFL. 

Interview by Carey Sargent, EPFL, NCCR MARVEL

Have you always been interested in science?

Ever since I was a kid, math has been my favorite subject, always. I didn’t like other sciences, but as soon as math entered into them, I started loving them too. I always liked stuff where there’s sort of one answer and it’s not as much memorization, it’s that it makes sense, it follows logic. This is what I like about math and the sciences—it’s not only memorization. It’s a lot of understanding. 

How did you hear about the INSPIRE Potentials Program?

In Finland I did my bachelor’s working in a research group in Aalto University and I continued working with them, maybe for a year altogether. My mentor in that research group got an ad for the INSPIRE Potentials program and as soon as she got female students, she wanted to show them the opportunity and I got interested in applying. 

What was the topic of your master’s project?

I’m working with nuclear magnetic resonance, which is an experimental technique to study structures at the atomic level. Often, for experimental results, we need computational results to compare and see what the experimental results actually mean. I’m doing the computational results, but with machine learning methods so that they will be more efficient. What I’m specifically doing there is trying to develop generalized machine learning potentials for ensemble averaged NMR chemical shieldings. We’re looking to make the method more accurate and computationally less costly. 

Do women face specific challenges in the sciences? 

I’ve not experienced it, but a challenge may be the fact that there are not a lot of role models out there. I was one out of four girls in my class studying physics and there were 50 guys. We were 16 out of 100 when we started. Four of us continued in physics and the rest went to math. It gets a bit lonely since there are not a lot of peers or role models out there. Although, in both research groups I worked with a female mentor, which has been very nice. I never felt like there was anybody out there who said that there was something I couldn’t do. I just feel like there are very few female role models in science.  

Any advice for young girls interested in the field?

I guess many times when I did selected subjects, I felt like people used to tell me “maybe you shouldn’t be doing this, it’s going to be very difficult.” It’s not because I’m female, it was just generally because these topics were perceived difficult. But people didn’t see that I actually enjoyed doing them. So, for me, because I enjoyed it, I found it easy because I spent more time on it.  I guess my advice is never listen to anyone else’s opinion but go with what feels good for you. But this advice is for anyone who wants to do sciences in general. Different people experience it differently and you should always go with your own gut feeling, don’t listen to the outsider opinion. Also don’t try to impose outsider opinion on others. I had a lot of times in university where people were telling me things like “this course is going to be super difficult, you shouldn’t take it” and in the end, I took it and enjoyed it. You shouldn’t really go around trying to scare people out of doing things.   

What are your plans for the future?

I have no clue. I will finish in two weeks and after this I will fill in the paperwork and formalities and graduate in summer officially and so I have a few months to figure it out. I have been offered a PhD position in Finland and I have been asked to come to a bank I worked with in Finland as well, but I might apply for something completely different.