Minorities and Women in OSA

Meet this female fellow

Zakya Kafafi

Zakya H. Kafafi

National Science Foundation, Arlington, VA, USA
OSA Member since: 1988
OSA Fellow since: 2007

Professional/personal highlights:

Dr. Zakya H. Kafafi joined the National Science Foundation as the Director of the Division of Materials Research in October 2007.

Dr. Kafafi has dedicated 21 years of her career serving the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in many different capacities, as a research chemist, a senior group leader and head of the Organic Optoelectronics Section in the Optical Sciences Division. Her research was motivated by newly emerging technologies based on organic electronics and photonics. She pioneered new areas which spanned a wide spectrum of disciplines. The chemistry and physics of self-assembled and organic nanostructures, organic light-emitting materials and devices, organic photovoltaics and, energy and charge transfer processes in condensed phase, represent some of the topics that received attention in Kafafi's group. Special emphasis was also given to the study of the surface and interface properties of nanostructures, molecular and polymeric materials using techniques such as photoemission spectroscopy and scanning probe microscopy.

Dr. Kafafi's responsibilities at NRL as Section Head included addressing national goals and priorities, which she succeeded in meeting by forming an integrated and talented research team of government personnel and postdoctoral fellows. She played a key role in developing a multidisciplinary research program on nonlinear optical (NLO) materials, emphasizing highly conjugated organic compounds and polymers, fullerenes and metallic nanostructures. This research effort addressed important national priorities such as her investigations of NLO materials for optical limiting. She then decided to diversify her research and seized the opportunity to jump into emerging technologies in organic optoelectronics and nanoscience where she launched many new research initiatives. Among the most notable ones is her large NRL consortium, an accelerated research initiative on "Organic Light-Emitting Materials & Devices" where she played a key role in developing the science foundation for the realization of stable, color tunable and highly efficient �state-of-the-art� organic light-emitting diodes. Following this program she initiated two multidisciplinary nanoscience efforts: one involved with the development of efficient nanostructured organic photovoltaics and another addressing the scientific challenges related to light-emission from an electrically stimulated single quantum dot. Under her direction, Dr. Kafafi�s Section became a leading center of research in organic optoelectronics. Realizing that energy is one of the most important challenges of the 21st century, she developed another accelerated research initiative where she directed a multi-disciplinary, multidivisional research consortium on Flexible Organic Solar Cells.

During her years of service at NRL, Dr. Kafafi received outstanding performance awards for her organizational skills in mobilizing personnel and resources to attain the given research objectives, and promoting cultural diversity. She paid particular attention to mentoring employees and developing their skills by providing technical support, educational opportunities, and career guidance. In addition, she is one of the founders of the NRL Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) network. This group has sponsored many important activities at NRL that is beneficial to the workforce. Among these activities, Dr. Kafafi launched a lab-wide mentor program pilot project to promote and develop the careers of female and male scientists, and create an environment where work at NRL is a productive and rewarding experience for all. After one year of successfully completing the pilot project, the director of research at NRL established a mentor program for all the employees at all sites. In recognition of her hard work and tireless efforts in this project, Dr. Kafafi received the NRL Commanding Officer's Award for Achievements in the Field of Equal Employment Opportunity for the creation of a mentor program for scientists and engineers. More recently she was involved in a study on the Quality of Life issues that significantly affected the NRL workforce's job satisfaction, thus impacting both retention and recruitment. She wrote a comprehensive report with many recommendations for improving the quality of life at NRL, and presented it to management.

Dr. Kafafi is a member of many scientific societies such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Chemical Society (ACS), the Materials Research Society (MRS), the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE), and the Optical Society of America (OSA) to list a few. She has been actively involved in planning and organizing many symposia and conferences, and served these societies in many different capacities. In 2005, Dr. Kafafi was elected a Fellow of SPIE for her outstanding contributions to the field of organic photonics and electronics covering many aspects of chemistry, physics and materials science. In 2007, Dr. Kafafi was recognized for serving with distinction in the advancement of optics and, for her pioneering work in organic optoelectronic materials and devices, and was elected a Fellow of OSA. In 2008, she was honored at the AAAS annual meeting for her contributions to science and technology, and recognized as a newly elected AAAS fellow for her achievements in materials science and chemistry.

Dr. Kafafi received both her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry from Rice University, Houston, Texas. She is the President of The Spectoscopic Associates and Co-founder, The NRL Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) network.

What is your advice for balancing one�s professional and personal life?

I feel that there is so much pressure to achieve and be perfect in life, but we have to realize that we can�t do it all and survive on our own. My advice to you is to set your priorities, create a network of those who can help out, choose a supporting partner and find good and reliable childcare when you have kids. Slow down and enjoy those special moments in your life with your friends and family. It does not always have to be a special occasion, like a wedding or Christmas, for which you plan and prepare. Be a bit spontaneous and cherish those moments for no particular reason.

I have an extremely busy schedule at work, but I always try to spend time with my family and friends. I enjoy reading books, scuba diving, tennis, wine tasting, and hiking in local parks. I cook and host parties at my home. I really enjoy strolling in the Longwood Gardens and Great Falls National Park, for example, and watching majestic views of different flowers and trees and listening to the dazzling music of nightingales and the waterfalls. When you are happy and fulfilled, you can accomplish much more! Enjoy your life and don�t lose your sense of self-identity.

Do you have suggestions for how female scientists support each other�s career and development?

Be part of a professional network; seek a good mentor.

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