Once a Military Personnel, Now a Photonics Scientist: Meet this Swedish woman who does it all!

Enkeleda Balliu
Watch the exclusive interview of Enkeleda Balliu for Shesight.
Interviewer- Dr. Chandra Vadhana
Research – Neha Srivastava
Video Editor- Akshita Modi

Science is the greatest collective endeavor. In today’s world, from biotechnology and digital media to sustainable energy and cloud computing – everything is affected and sometimes entirely reshaped by scientific and technological advances.

However, despite the tremendous advancement that the 21st century has seen, a huge gender gap in this sphere still exists. According to UIS data, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. The data also show the extent to which these women work in the public, private or academic sectors, as well as their fields of research. Therefore, to truly reduce the gender gap, we must go beyond the numbers and identify the qualitative factors that deter women from pursuing careers in STEM. As the world moves forward toward a future threatened by climate change and resource scarcity, the global scientific community must not overlook the contribution of women scientists. The need of the hour is to start recognizing and promoting the achievements made by promising as well as established women in science.

Enkeleda Balliu is a name in the field of science and technology that spells resolute study and research of over 10 years in the field of photonics. Her exploration and research have played a pivotal role in driving innovation across an increasing number of fields. The application of photonics spreads across several sectors, starting from optical data communications to imaging, lighting, and displays, even to the manufacturing sector, to life sciences, health care, security, and safety.

Since her childhood, Balliu has been fascinated by the mystique world of science. She started her studies in electronic engineering, so she could dig deeper and explore further, the fields of science and technology. During this time, inspired by her father, who was an officer in the Albanian military, Balliu enrolled herself in a military academy in Italy. She learned to carry out administrative duties, manage stress, and practice self-discipline. Most importantly she acquired leadership skills that later helped her in her research career. 

In 2011, she left the military academy to pursue a career in STEM and started working as a research assistant at the Polytechnic of Turin. This brought her the opportunity to move to Sweden to complete her Ph.D. at Mid-Sweden University. During her time there, her main research focus was to investigate different approaches to power scale sustainably, high-performance and low-footprint, single-frequency lasers. Moreover, part of her research work was focused on laser-assisted material processing, where different functional materials were deposited with different methods on flexible substrates such as paper and PET.

Balliu is currently a Postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University. Her research revolves around the field of laser technology. She aims to develop lasers with unprecedented characteristics with very high stability and coherence most compactly and sustainably. Her research plays a significant role as in today’s world laser technology is being used everywhere, be it in the fields of medicine, industrial application, or even military purposes. 

Even though Balliu and her women counterparts are contributing greatly to groundbreaking research and innovation, there is still an absence of recognition for them as women scientists. A UNESCO Science report reveals less than 4 % of Nobel Prizes for science have ever been awarded to women, and only 11 % of senior research roles are held by women in Europe. Even though “STEM is everywhere”, to young girls it is still a challenge to pursue a career in this field as it is stereotypically thought to be male-dominated where no woman can succeed. However, Balliu believes that “every challenge is an opportunity. To be seen, one must go through the challenges and overcome them.”

According to Balliu the reason behind fewer women representation in this field is the misconception that STEM is very difficult, something impossible. She strongly believes that no matter what gender you fall under, “one must be curious to pursue a career in STEM. You need to see complex problems in the simplest ways and find easy solutions”. To encourage more girls to take up a career in this field we need more female representation and diversity across this sphere.

Apart from gender bias, women across the world also share another problem while taking up a career in science, as it requires a longer period of commitment. Family, marriage, and cultural background are major influences on a woman’s career choices. “The speed of technology and evolution of STEM is rapid, and you might feel you’re missing something if you’re not a part of it. But it is okay to take time for yourself and come back more energized. Just because you are a scientist, it does not mean that you cannot have a family,” says Balliu.

In the near future, Balliu would like to inspire young promising girls and strongly hopes to see increasing female representation in the field of STEM, which begins with women believing in themselves that they are equal to their male counterparts. “It is very simple if you focus on yourself and your goals and do not compare yourself with others,” she advises.

Mohor Bhattacharjee

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