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Dr. Ying Lia Li

Dr. Ying Lia Li is a recipient of the Make Space for Inclusion in STEM Award!
Preferred name: Lia
Pronouns: she/her/hers



Dr. Ying Lia Lia (everyone calls her Lia), is a physics researcher who uses optical resonances to detect motion smaller than the size of an atom. Along with her superpowers making super-sensitive classical chip-scale optical sensors, Lia is a fierce advocate for underrepresented groups in physics. She runs the UCL Women in Physics group and arranges talks to give women researchers a platform to showcase their work. She organizes Wikithons that focus on increasing the number of women researchers as well as LGBT+ researchers on this platform. She even works on science policy.

Last year, Lia joined the TIGER IN STEMM group (The Inclusion Group for Equity in Research in STEMM) led by Prof. Rachel Oliver who presented a successful proposal for more examination into how funding in STEM affects researchers from underrepresented groups to the UK Government Science and Technology Select Committee.This year Lia joined the UCL Race Equality Steering Group. She is excited to work with the university to improve the representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic researchers. 

It was during her Ph.D. when Lia realized most physicists looked the same. There were no Black or Asian female physicists in her field. She found this painful because the reason she is in the UK is that her dad pursued his engineering degree outside of China. She doubts she would have chosen to study physics if she would have remained in China. Her motivation to push for inclusivity and accessibility increased after she took over the UCL Women in Physics Group in 2017, finally meeting more women in the last 3 years than she’d ever met in her entire undergraduate degree! She heard stories of women-led teams receiving less grant funding, LGBTQ+ scientists not feeling comfortable to be out and proud at work, and ethnic minority academics still experiencing a pay-gap. Hearing their stories gave her the inspiration to celebrate diverse scientists and fight alongside underrepresented groups to change biased policies and challenge the culture of academia that continues to allow harassers to thrive. After meeting Dr Jess Wade, who has written over 700 Wikipedia articles about underrepresented scientists, she started organising Wikithons at UCL as a way to create an immediate impact on this digital encyclopedia which falls so short of representing society (on English Wikipedia, only 18% of biographies are about women, across all subjects).

Lia makes classical chip-scale optical sensors that are so sensitive they can detect blood accelerating through the body and may one day make indoor navigation a reality. She’s currently trying to spin-out a company to do this, too. She truly is a Make Space superstar. 

You can find Lia here:

Twitter: @OptoLia

Instagram: @banana_baby_returns