Passing on the spark: New physics professor aims to inspire


Dominique Perkins

Antia Sanchez Botana grew up in the northwest of Spain and was drawn to physics at an early age. The subject appealed to her natural curiosity.

“The need of trying to explain why do things happen, that curiosity is what drove me to science,” she said. She also credits her high school physics teacher, who became her role model and steered her career as a physicist.

That career now has led her to join Arizona State University as an assistant professor in the Department of Physics. 

Botana attended the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain as an undergraduate; there she began to refine her research interests. While completing her master's and doctoral degrees, she had the opportunity to study abroad, spending four months in Vienna, Austria, and three months in Washington, D.C., in the naval research lab. She then went on to accept a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Davis and afterward at Argonne National Lab in Chicago.

Her research employs density functional theory to direct the computational design of materials with novel functionalities. She works on topics ranging from superconductivity to frustrated magnetism, thermoelectricity and confinement effects in nanostructures.

“Most of the people were working in high energy, but I was always drawn to condensed-matter physics,” she said. “I always wanted to understand why the components that went into my phone were chosen, why they worked that way.”

She is excited to join ASU’s faculty and energized by the university's commitment to excellence and diversity. She is eager to engage with students and build her research group, hoping to serve as that spark of inspiration for her students — “getting to motivate their curiosity for research the same way it happened for me,” she said.

When it comes to teaching a new generation, particularly those who don’t already have an interest, the reputation of physics can sometimes be its greatest challenge. Students tend to come with a preconception that the subject will be overly difficult and the worst experience of their education, but Botana insists it does not have to be that way.

“That’s why I think it’s important on our end to show students that physics is beautiful — the preconceptions of physics being a horrible subject, it’s not that horrible, it really is not,” she said.

She is also excited at the prospect of founding her own research group. “I intend to bring together materials physics and mineralogy,” she said. “Materials, going back to nature – because no one has more experience making materials than nature itself.”

When she isn’t studying nature’s material modeling, Botana has a wide variety of hobbies. She is fond of photography and architecture and likes to combine those interests as she travels. She also enjoys running and practices Pilates.