Sinead griffin


Ph.D. in Materials Physics, ETH Zürich, Switzerland

MSc in Quantum Fields and Fundamental Forces, Imperial College, London, UK

BA (hons) in Theoretical Physics, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland


I grew up in Dublin, Ireland and have also lived in London, Santa Barbara, Zürich, and Berkeley. I can’t say I always wanted to be a scientist when I was growing up. I always loved mathematics and thought that I would study math. But then I started taking physics classes in high school and spent a year training as part of the Irish Physics Olympiad team.

I’ve always drawn and painted and seriously considering accepting a place at art school. In the end, my art teacher told me I could always do art in my spare time but the other way around would be much more difficult -- and he was right! I kept up painting and drawing outside of work and now I exhibit regularly in the Bay Area. You can see one of my pieces on display at the Anna Head Center by campus.

Three Questions

  1. How does your work contribute to the Lab’s mission?

My work using state-of-the-art quantum mechanical calculations to solve the most challenging and fun(!) questions at the boundaries of physics, chemistry and materials science. This also involves a lot of collaboration -- both with experimentalists, since I am a theorist, and across different disciplines. This type of multi-disciplinary big question research is ideally located at the Lab.

  1. What is your biggest scientific/work challenge?

I often work right on the boundaries of very different disciplines -- condensed matter physics and high energy physics. A key hurdle in this is communicating in a meaningful way so that we can effectively work together. It helps of course that a lot of physics is communicated by the universal language of equations and that I started off my career in high energy physics, but we still often speak different languages.

  1. Who has been the biggest professional influence in your life, and why?

My Ph.D. advisor, Nicola Spaldin, an exceptional scientist to learn from, also encouraged me to pursue other interests during my Ph.D. She encouraged me to apply to be a mentor at a workshop in Africa in 2010. Since then I’ve traveled to several countries in Africa lecturing in physics and computational materials science. Because of my love of traveling to Africa, I celebrated submitting my Ph.D. by flying to Kenya and running the Lewa Marathon, surrounded by everything from giraffes and elephants to zebra and antelope.