Canzani in Endeavors

Yaiza Canzani in Endeavors

Yaiza Canzani is an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics within the UNC College of Arts & Sciences. Her research focuses on understanding the behavior of wave functions that solve Schrodinger’s equation – the mathematical formulation for studying the energy levels of quantum mechanical systems like atoms.

When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
When I was younger, it was much easier for me to think about what I didn’t want to be. I knew, for example, that I would never end up doing anything related to sports – I’m too much of a couch person!

Describe your research in five words.
Quantum particles avoid my zeros.

Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.
I come from Uruguay, and over there you choose your career when you are 18 years old. Then, you spend the four years of your undergrad taking courses directly related to your election. I think I was too young to make such a decision. What I knew at the time was that I was good at math, and that I really liked chemistry.

There is only one public university in Uruguay, and the buildings for the different careers are spread across the capital, Montevideo. I chose to do math because the math department was a ten-minute walk from home, while the chemistry building was an hour away by bus, ha! I was eighteen – what can I say?! After starting the career in math, though, I realized that I loved it, and it became clear to me that doing research in math would lead me to a happy life. So I kept going.

Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?
The first draft of a blog post I published with Scientific American came back from the editor with a note at the top saying something like: “I stopped writing comments because there would be too many, and they would all say the writing sounds too much like a textbook. It should be conversational, and I really hope that’s not how you talk!” I had to laugh at the criticism, because I knew it was true! Somewhere along the line I had decided this style of writing made me sound smart. But I realized my goal in the piece was to communicate with people, not to impress them, which meant writing something they might actually want to read.

What are your passions outside science?
Throughout most of graduate school, I volunteered with Girls Rock NC, a youth empowerment program for girls and gender-variant youth. I’ve been less involved since co-founding my own summer camp, Girls Talk Math, though I was able to collaborate with them by having their teen group write and record an intro song for our campers’ podcasts. It’s important to me to stay connected with and help the community around UNC. Research can sometimes feel isolated from the rest of the world, but academics are community members just like anyone else.

Women in Science Wednesday highlights UNC researchers at all levels of their careers across dozens of fields. From nursing to economics to computer science, women at Carolina excel in research, mentorship, and advocacy.

Story by Endeavors, January 10th, 2018, Women in Science Wednesdays