GOLDEN — Whether it's because of size or reputation — and the four Nobel Prize winners certainly doesn't hurt on that front — when it comes to collegiate physics, the University of Colorado casts quite the shadow.

However, this weekend the spotlight has found its way to Colorado School of Mines in Golden, which is one of the hosts of the eighth annual Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics.

"We're sort of the small cousin to the big neighbor up the road," said Alex Flournoy, a Colorado School of Mines professor.

Mines is one of six sites nationally , including the California Institute of Technology, Cornell University and the University of Texas. This is the first time a Rocky Mountain school has hosted.

And Mines is considered the featured locale, because it's presenting the keynote speaker, CU-Boulder professor Margaret Murnane, whose address Saturday will be streamed to each location.

Murnane's work in laser physics helped prompt President Obama to name her as chair of the President's Committee on the National Medal of Science in December 2011.

She is also regarded as a great mentor in the world of women and physics. While Mines has the sixth largest undergraduate physics program in the United States, only 26 percent of the students are women.

"At a lot of these schools, not only are there few female undergraduate students, there are few professors," said senior Ariel Bridgeman. "In physics, you try to visualize things — 'Can I be a professor, what kind of professor would I be?'


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"At these conferences you get those professors, you get working professionals. You can talk with them and (undergraduate women) can find role models."

The Mines conference is drawing students from 18 states and 37 different colleges and universities. Some of the women, organizers said, are the only female physics students at their schools.

Bridgeman and the other members of the conference's executive committee, fellow seniors Nicole Johnson and Linnea Jones, attended last year's conference at Stanford and decided to work to bring it to Mines. Although Flournoy, the faculty adviser, and school officials were supportive, the three women found themselves immersed in the project, getting an unexpected education in areas like fundraising, transportation coordination and even catering.

The group's target fundraising figure was $45,000, but they ended up raising $60,000. The remainder of the funds will be used to sponsor an on-campus women in physics group.

Anthony Cotton: 303-954-1292, acotton@denverpost.com or twitter.com/anthonycottondp