photo of Ayse Erzan '70

'Outstanding' scientist

Ayse Erzan '70, Professor of Physics at Istanbul Technical University, received a 2003 L'Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science Award. L'Oreal-UNESCO's "For Women in Science" program distinguishes five remarkable women researchers representing Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America. The program aims to improve the position of women in science by recognizing outstanding women researchers who have contributed to scientific progress.

Erzan plans to use the $100,000 award to help support graduate students and to pay travel expenses for professional meetings.

"I am just a theoretical physicist who works in her corner and worries about such things as how complexity arises spontaneously, from interactions between simple building blocks," Erzan says. "Contrary to the reductionist approach, this means investigating certain global features that display a great deal of universality: cracks work similarly to earthquakes; the sudden flash of lightning is in fact very similiar, in its growth mechanism, to the spread of dampness in plaster, or to the growth of bacteria in a Petri dish, and forms similar patterns.

"Lately I have been working more on biologically motivated problems-after all, the greatest challenge is to try to understand how life started!"

Erzan received her PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook in 1976. After graduation she returned to Turkey and joined the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, and a year later the Istanbul Technical University. "At this time I was active in the women's and peace movements," she says "Thus, after the military coup in 1980, I left the country and worked at various universities and research institutions, among which are the University of Geneva, University of Porto in Portugal, University of Marburg in Germany (as an Alexander von Humboldt fellow, with Siegfried Grossmann) and the University of Groningen.

"After a brief stint at the ICTP in Trieste I went back to my home institution, the Istanbul Technical University, in 1990. Since then I have been teaching and doing research at the ITU as well as at the Feza Gursey Institute for Fundamental Research, sponsored by TUBITAK, the Turkish equivalent of the NSF."

Erzan was elected a full member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences in 1997 and awarded the TUBITAK Science prize in 1997. She is on the editorial boards of the European Physical Journal B and The Journal of Statistical Physics.

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