1) What inspired you to work in STEM?
I grew up in a large extended family. Half of my family were medical doctors, while the other half was in academia, specifically in STEM. It was natural for me to pursue studies in STEM given that environment. After my first year at the university I had to choose between math and physics. The choice was not difficult. I always enjoyed physics immensely; it was more exciting for me to solve physics problems where you can predict what will happen around you by understanding simple laws. I appreciated the practical aspects of physics.
2) What excites you about your work at the Department of Energy?
Coming up with new ideas and techniques to solve the mysteries of the universe is extremely exciting and very rewarding. We are challenged on a daily basis. There is absolutely no routine in what we do. This keeps you very active, and mentally always challenged. I also love the fact that we collaborate with people from all over the world, and travel to present our new research ideas all over the globe. I had the chance to live in multiple countries: starting with my home country Algeria, going to Italy, Germany, Switzerland and finally my current home, the U.S. I could not dream of a more interesting scientific and social life than what I have experienced so far.
Radja’s research focuses on the ultra-precise understanding of Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD), the theory of the strong force. She applies her QCD investigations to model the high-energy interactions occurring at experiments such as the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. Her recent work focuses on understanding the properties of the recently discovered Higgs boson, the particle that is believed to give mass to all elementary particles in nature. There is great hope in the particle physics community that the Higgs boson will open a portal onto a new theory of nature at the highest energies. Radja’s calculations are needed in order to predict the properties of the Higgs boson at the percent level, and determine whether they indeed describe what is measured in experiment. If they deviate from data, this could be a hint of the existence of new particles that may explain some of the open questions about our universe such as the mysterious dark matter present in galaxies.
3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
I strongly believe that outreach activities play a very important role in informing the younger generation what STEM is all about and breaking the cliche that such careers are difficult. If schoolgirls have the chance to interact with mentors and successful role models in STEM early on, they become more encouraged to follow such careers. It is also very important to create a welcoming and comfortable working environment for women and underrepresented minorities in their respective STEM fields. They must be encouraged to stay and become role models for the younger generation.
Radja earned her Ph.D. in physics from the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg, Germany, and a master’s degree in theoretical physics from the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy.
4) Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
The key to success in STEM is perseverance and self-motivation. It is crucial not to give up when things don’t immediately work. They often don’t, as you are solving new problems that no one has thought about previously. Use your free time to get involved in small projects through internships, they will broaden your perspective and give you hands-on experience.
5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
I love ice skating, wind surfing, jogging, hiking, learning new languages, and most importantly playing with my little daughter any chance I get.