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#FacesofPhotonics and Women In Optics feature: IBM Researcher Anuja De Silva

Anuja De Silva attending SPIE
Advanced Lithography in San Jose, CA
Meet the SPIE Faces of Photonics star of the week, SPIE Member Anuja De Silva. Anuja grew up in Sri Lanka and now resides in Albany, New York, where she works as a materials and process researcher in the Semiconductor Technology Research division of IBM. Speaking of her work, she says, "I develop new types of materials and processes that help us to scale the size of computer chips... It's hardware development for next-generation semiconductor devices."

Anuja graduated with her Bachelor's in Chemistry from Mount Holyoke College and went on to get her Master's and PhD in Materials Chemistry from Cornell University. Upon conducting a research project for her undergraduate degree, she found her passion for optics and materials research.

Anuja and husband Nelson Felix attend SPIE Advanced
Lithography together. The couple both work at IBM.

"I have always been interested in math and science," Anuja shares. "The options in Sri Lanka, where I grew up, for a career as a research scientist were limited. My mother encouraged me to apply to college in the United States for my undergraduate education to get more exposure to STEM fields. At Mount Holyoke, I had the opportunity to take part in several undergraduate research projects, and found a keen interest for materials research."

The field is rapidly growing right before our eyes, but what does she look forward to most? "[I want] to see the impact of artificial intelligence in our everyday lives."

In the community

Anuja has always found it important to be vocal in the STEM community and advises others to be active members as well. "Engage in discussions, participate in conferences, and publish your new ideas," she says. "That is integral to sustaining the community".

Being an active member of the community also includes outreach. Student tours at the IBM fabrication facilities are some of Anuja's favorite moments. She says, "It's always exciting to see how kids react... Their wonder and amazement are infectious."

IBM'ers: Anuja De Silva, Luciana Meli, and Jing Guo presented
at SPIE Advanced Lithography 2018

Be proactive 

Not only must we be active in the community, but Anuja also urges others in the field to be advocates for themselves. Not only in your career, but in your personal life as well.

Another SPIE meetup!

"When I started out, I was passive about my goals and ready to wait for opportunities to come along. Now I look for new ways to develop my skills and people to network with. I wish I had been encouraged to be bold and demand things for myself; to actively seek recognition for my contributions. It can take a lot of reinforcement for upper management to acknowledge your work. I have seen a direct correlation between asking for and receiving recognition."

"Believe in yourself and your abilities. Even if you don’t achieve all your career goals in the timeline or plan you set for yourself, never give up. Success can manifest in different ways as long as you keep learning and making scientific contributions. Be creative and turn failures into assets."

It can be challenging to take the time to recognize what you want in your life and in your career. Anuja's tip? Unplug. She says her brain is most active when she "unplugs and
disconnects." "It can actually help stimulate your thoughts!"  

Anuja and colleagues at their annual graduate school
group dinner at SPIE Advanced Lithography.


When she's not hard at work in the lab, Anuja takes every opportunity to travel. Whether it be to the SPIE Advanced Lithography conference or a fun vacation with her family, one look at her social profiles and you'll see she's always up to something. Much of her social media presence is dedicated to her travel influencer work. On her Instagram and Twitter profiles, she shares tips and resources for how to travel with kids, how to make the most out of a specific destination, how to travel on a budget, and other related topics.

Despite her busy schedule, some might be surprised to hear her say balance isn't the key.

Family trip to Switzerland
Family selfie in Saltzberg, Austria

"I’m a full-time working mom with two young kids. I don’t aim to find the right “balance.” Whether I’m at work, running errands with my kids, or traveling, I try to be present in the moment and give it my full focus."

If you're interested in reading more, you can see Anuja's 2019 Women In Optics planner profile (be sure to request your free copy!) and learn more about her team's research on the IBM Research Blog here

Anuja & Nelson in
Interlaken, Switzerland

SPIE’s #FacesofPhotonics social media campaign connects SPIE members in the global optics, photonics, and STEM communities. It serves to highlight similarities, celebrate differences, and foster a space where conversation and community can thrive.

Follow along with past and present stories on SPIE social media channels:

Or search #FacesofPhotonics on your favorite social network!


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