Nataliya Lopanitsyna

Nataliya Lopanitsyna, known as Natasha, comes from Yekaterinburg in the Urals in Russia. She studied for six years at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, focusing on general physics and different kinds of math and programming at the bachelor's level and then more on Materials Science as part of the work on her master’s. During her INSPIRE fellowship, she worked with Professor Michele Ceriotti on developing neural network potentials for nickel and she has started a PhD in the same group. She says that the INSPIRE fellowship not only helped her find the PhD position, it also made the transition from master's- to PhD student less painful.  In her free time she enjoys exploring Lausanne and nearby towns, learning French and Italian and, because she’s "sitting in front of her computer all day long," also tries to go to the gym at least three times a week. She also enjoys going out with her colleagues.

Interview by Carey Sargent, EPFL, NCCR MARVEL

Have you always been interested in science?

Yes, I think so, because even when I was at school, I attended different conferences and competitions for young scientists. So me and my classmates, did some scientific projects together. I also attended some physics and math competitions during school, including regional competitions. I can say that I was always close to science.   

What interests you about the work you did during this project?

My bachelor's and (initial) master’s theses were very close to the things I'm doing right now. And so why I chose it at the very beginning is because I love math, physics and programming and this has everything together — I need to do everything together for my current work. I like the process. Why else do I like this topic? I don't know, I'm just fascinated with the fact that I can simulate materials and make some predictions about materials properties. And if you are lucky enough you may predict something that hasn't been observed by experimentalists yet just using your computer (well, or supercomputer).

My advice in general is to get as much experience in different fields as you can. But once you understood what you like, focus on it and work hard.

Do you have any advice for younger women interested in science?

I would recommend that during their bachelor's and masters' programs they take more internships in different fields so that they can be familiar with what they want to do next.  It’s hard to understand whether you want to become a theoretician or an experimentalist so you should try both. In any case, it would never be a waste of time, it will always be a new experience and you will get a wider understanding of science in general and of how people think. Even if after a theoretical internship you decide to work in an experimental group, you can better understand how theoreticians think about and understand science. And you can use this when you write your articles, to explain your work better to other people. My advice in general is to get as much experience in different fields as you can. But once you understood what you like, focus on it and work hard.