Woman Scientist of the Month: Anne Goldberg (06/2019)

In regular intervals, EPWS interviews a distinguished woman scientist in 10 questions.

In this section, we are interviewing European women of various ages and disciplines, recognized by the scientific community for their achievements, who are also concerned by the gender-equality goals of EPWS. They are true role models and a source of inspiration for the future for other women scientists.

Read all the Interviews here

This month EPWS gives the floor to Anne Goldberg. Dr. Goldberg is an outstanding Belgian physicist working in the chemical industry. In the field of Gender in Science, she has created the Solvay « Girls leading in science » (GirLS) contest with the support of a few stakeholders representatives, among others Hub.Brussels and BeWiSe.





EPWS: What made you want to go to science? How did you decide to choose your discipline and your particular field of research? Did you have an inspiring model (parent, relative, teacher, literature, etc.)?

I have had always passion for French literature, music, ancient Greek philosophy and mathematics. At secondary school, I made a positive choice, as instead of selecting “Latin-Math” section (a lot of math, but no Greek), I preferred to select “Latin-Greek” (a lot of Latin and Greek but only a few math).  The section “Greek-Math” didn’t exist. In their philosophical journey, the ancient authors were the very first ones, in the humankind, to draw out the understanding of nature from the gods-based mythic explanations and introduce a rationale-based approach. This convinced me that studying physics at university would allow coming closer to these questions. Moreover, this was a big challenge in front of some of my family members who were successful in many topics including studying chemistry! At university, I was very much attracted by far-from-equilibrium systems, statistical physics and continuum mechanics. This led me to specialize in theoretical plasma physics for inertial fusion. Unfortunately, this direction couldn’t develop further because it requested high power lasers that were at stake because of American military secrets dealing with Reagan “star-wars” program. After the university, I never worked again in that field, but a few teaching hours to engineers during a couple of years.


What do you work on? How important is your research topic for science development or society?

After 3 years in a public lab, I went to industry. Working in industry means that you change position on a regular basis. Though I have spent all my carrier in research and innovation, it can be broken down in 2 main parts.

First, I have made researches in material science, setting up testing methods to understand solid state physics of polymers, especially fracture (see fig 1), then trying to understand the so-called “structure-properties” relationships (fig 2);


Fig 1 – A burst pipe with some other tested samples

Fig 2 (from [1]) – TEM of a section through the HDPE fracture surface. Deformed crystal lamellae are clearly visible as well as fibrils.


Second I have managed various portfolios of corporate research projects throughout the company, namely in the field of nanotechnology. It was a very intense period where I travelled a lot to Korea and India, coming in touch with start-ups. I had also the opportunity to represent my company at the board of the Nanotechnology Industry Association.


Fig 3 – Microscope view of the platelet structure of graphene (from [2])

Fig 4 – A tree planted during my trip at our Solvay Indian Research Center


Those last years, I came back to my first loves, having mainly worked on the development of a strategic roadmap for solid state of composites.

From the very beginning, humankind has been shaping and inventing materials. Just think to the denomination of ages like paleo- or neo-lithic periods, iron age, bronze age, etc. Materials are a key component of scientific and technologic progress, and nowadays part of the solution to address the big societal challenges, related to energy transition and climate change.


What is your greatest success as a researcher (and as a teacher if you teach), the one you are most proud of? Could you share the memory of a great personal satisfaction during your research career with us?

I can share 2 successes as researcher. The first one is related to my expertise in fracture mechanics of polymers. After the whole teamwork performed for the development of a new product, this specific competence was nevertheless instrumental in triggering the take off of one of our high added-value polymers for off-shore applications.

The second success dealt with another polymer, for pipe applications. In that type of applications that convey water or gases or effluents, you have to predict and overall guarantee the behaviour of your material until 50 years thanks to modeling. It is a big responsibility, and many tests were performed on pipes with traditional standards.

I could set-up and implement small scale accelerated tests to assess pipe resistance to pressure that saved a lot of time and material, and I discovered at the same time the fundamental importance of the chemical synthesis process on the polymer long-term solid-state properties.


Mechanical testing (pressure on pipes and creep on tensile samples)
Fig 5 – Mechanical testing (pressure on pipes and creep on tensile samples)


One of my great personal satisfactions isn’t a scientific one. I have organized during 10 years a series of scientific conferences with and for the researchers of my company, also with the help of the International Solvay Institutes to identify high level keynote speakers.

I have worked with a network of enthusiastic colleagues, we had the privilege to listen to prestigious external speakers such as Nobel laureates in physics and in chemistry, and interact with them.

Our researchers, coming from all over the world, gave oral presentations in front of their peers and also  in front of the management. This was a moment of intense work and a lot of emotions and satisfaction to see all these bright people share the result of their work.


In which country/countries have you been doing research?

I have made all my career in various positions but staying in Belgium (where I have also studied).


EPWS: What is your agenda for the coming months?

Ah, this is a cumbersome question. I am currently preparing for early retirement, and I am progressively setting-up projects where I try to please myself, while giving back to the society what it has given to me when I was younger. I’d like to remain involved in my last societal project, targeting 16-18 years old pupils, especially girls, to encourage them studying STEM.  The Girls Leading in Science project has become now a partnership between Solvay and BeWise, which makes me very happy.


The “Girls Leading in Science” participants
Fig 6 – The “Girls Leading in Science” participants


I have started to teach at the Mons University, 2 classes about innovation and history of science/ideas.

I am fascinated by my readings about the birth of modern science and its link with Renaissance and with the political and religious context.

I will also keep my current activities in the European Industrial Research Management Association (EIRMA) task force on responsible innovation, in the Graphene Flagship strategic advisory board, and maybe at the board of Materia Nova, a very active R&D center specialized material science in Wallonia.

This is a complex question that I will try to answer at best.

At the end of my degree, I hesitated to complement my education as a physicist with a civil engineer diploma, because I thought I would be stronger once in front of a potential recruiter. Ultimately, I didn’t, and started rather a PhD, because I was convinced by one of my professors to work with him. It turned out not to be a good idea, because I faced an increasing amount of hurdles – just as former female PhD students – and didn’t finish my PhD.  This shaped definitely my career, though it took me more than 25 years to have my eyes uncovered!

At the time I was hired by Solvay, female employees were around 25%, many of them as administrative staff. The situation has considerably improved, and an objective of reaching gender equality by 2025 has been set. In this context, it is rather difficult to make the difference between not being lucky (needed for any circumstances of the life), not detecting unconscious biases and surviving to the successive changes of perimeters of the company.

I never benefit from any mentoring, and I am not indebted to anyone for what I have achieved throughout my career.


What is the situation of gender equality in your working field? In the countries where you have been working, were there gender equalities policies and did you experience their effects?
What do you suggest for a better implementation of gender equality in science?

All along my professional life, including my studies at university, I have worked mainly with male colleagues, being very often the only woman in meetings, though it has never be an issue for me.

My observation is that in chemistry and biology research activities, gender equality is rather achieved, at least for young researchers. This is certainly not the case when considering both higher management positions, whatever the field, and material/polymer scientists in solid state physics.

In Belgium, I would say that there has been a tradition since the very beginning, to be quite advanced regarding big social issues like abortion and euthanasia.  To my knowledge, the fighting for gender equality followed that trend, with for instance, the anti-discrimination law or the article 10 of the constitution that establishes the principle of equality between men and women ([3], [4]);

About a better implementation of gender equality in science, I must acknowledge the momentum triggered at the European level, that allowed namely the creation of EPWS, but also the incorporation of gender aspects in science policy, and more especially in responsible research as defined in Horizon2020 [5].


Fig 7 – Responsible Innovation at EU REinEU 2016 conference in Bratislava

As of 2012, a group of senior professionals whose companies were belonging to EIRMA launched a task force aiming at understanding what was behind the concept of “Responsible Research and Innovation” set-up by the EC in Horizon2020. We progressively identified, along the years, that the 5 criteria related to it[6] were matching very well the responsible research, but not at all responsible innovation as innovation is definitely a different process than research, that has to be assessed on different criteria.

However, the « gender » criteria made us think further, and it appeared that it had a lot of indirect consequences, for research and also for innovation:  women focus more on understanding the impact of what they develop on people, and this results in the development of other applications than men, less women are quoted in patents, less women are CEOs of technical start-ups, biases are present in the questions from investors, etc.


Fig 8 – EIRMA task force on Responsible Innovation at work [7]

Responsible innovation (RI) is about creating value for all the stakeholder, and not only the shareholders, while preventing negative impacts. Today, as it is more critical than ever to solve the societal challenges, implementing responsibility in (academic and industrial) research and in industrial innovation via the sustainable development principles and objectives has become mainstream[8]. Gender equality is the 5th sustainable development goal, and applied both in public bodies[9] as well as in private companies (on a volunteering base, for those that have embedded sustainability in their strategy[10]).


Fig 9 – WBCSD Vision 2050 and Solvay strategic objectives of sustainability


So, we have the tools and the toolbox. Now, to make it occur, still a lot of work has to be done, men and women together, as I am convinced that, in that matter, it is important to go ahead with the men and not against them. Primarily people should be aware of the facts, reported by many regional, national or local authorities (see for ex.[11], [12], [13]), and discuss them. What I think we need further, I describe it at question 10.


Did you experience networking between women scientists? Can you comment your answer and explain why yes or not?

I recognized gender issue10 years ago, so quite late in my life, whereas I had put a lot of efforts in my work and in my family, evolving between both with a precarious balance. As I said above, being quite alone in my job, I decided to become a member of BeWise.  I liked very much to make testimonials in front of students of secondary schools.

In my mind, ideally, we should have a balanced representation of the various stakeholders (public, academic, industry, etc.). I always appreciate discussing with other women, but with our way of life, it takes time to build close relations. I think that it is valuable to have room for “only female” discussions, but as I said, we should never forget our male counterparts, who will build with us the solutions of the future, and make stereotypes evolve. This is why our contest “Girls leading in science” was launched.


Fig 10 – The announcement of our 2019 Girls Leading in Science contest


If you could start again your life, would you choose again to be a scientist? What would you change?

Definitely yes! Though it wasn’t easy everyday to be a physicist in a chemical company, I never regretted it. Working in research is a gift, whatever the type of question that you can meet. Once you’re bitten by science, it is like being bitten by a virus: you never recover.

If I had something to change, I would likely to be more aware of unconscious biases and work on them.

I would also try to be daily earlier at home, which I more less succeeded with my eldest daughter, but not really with my son, especially when he was a teenager, staying alone too much because my husband and myself were working hard.


Could you leave a message to young European women scientists?

I would say 3 things.

First, be aware of your unconscious biases in order to work on them: girls usually are perfectionist, and underestimate themselves; this prevents them for ex. to apply for positions where they think they don’t fulfill all the requirements, or to ask for a promotion. Fights against categorization based on gender everywhere, overall with the youngest generation, and fight against yourself!

Second, feel confident that, whatever your age, there is always room to play a role model for younger girls and boys.

Third, the roots of stereotypes are going deep back in childhood. Identify all the simple rules that help changing the minds, such as: when teachers perform projects with their pupils or students, they should be careful that girls don’t take only roles in communication or facilitation but truly in “putting the hands into the sludge”, i.e. coding, programing, building, screwing, etc.

Last but not least, overall, make your passion for science viral!





[1] C.Plummer, A.Goldberg, A.Ghanem “Micromechanisms of slow crack growth in polyethylene under constant tensile loading”, Polymer 42 (2001), pp. 9551-9564
[2] A Company in History. Solvay, 1863-2013, Kenneth Bertrams, Poche – 2013
[3] in : Sénat de Belgique, session du 6 octobre 2010, Proposition de résolution visant à introduire la clause de l’Européenne la plus favorisée http://www.senate.be/www/?MIval=/publications/viewPub.html&COLL=S&LEG=5&NR=227&VOLGNR=1&LANG=fr
[4] http://www.choisirlacausedesfemmes.org/uploads/documents/Clause%20Pr-sentation%20%2025%20f-vrier%202010-2.pdf
[5] https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/h2020-section/responsible-research-innovation
[6]  Public engagement, open access, gender, ethics, science education
[7] See https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/9/10/1719
[8] See https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300
[9] See https://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/policies/sustainable-development-goals_en
[10] See https://www.wbcsd.org
[11] “She Figures 2018” – https://ec.europa.eu/info/publications/she-figures-2018_en
[12]  https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000253479
[13] https://docplayer.fr/44201572-Dossier-femmes-science-les-nouveaux-mandataires-du-f-r-s-fnrs.html


Favourite Links: