Women account for only a quarter of U.S. graduates who earn bachelor's degrees in physics, according to the American Physical Society, a Maryland-based nonprofit organization. But Dr. Tatiana Erukhimova, a physics professor at Texas A&M University, is looking to change that with the help of social media.
Videos of her experiments have ignited people's curiosity on TikTok, drawing tens of millions of views over the last two years.
"You cannot explain much in these short clips, but ... you can inspire," she said.
Afiya Dhanani attended Texas A&M University after watching Erukhimova's physics experiments online.
"Watching Dr. Tatiana do the experiments online, especially since she was a female leader, was more inspiring for me to even go into physics," Dhanani said.
Erukhimova's journey began thousands of miles away, about six hours northeast of Moscow, before the breakup of the Soviet Union. She grew up with two physicists as parents and later married a physicist, Alexey. They relocated to College Station, Texas, where they serve as educators.
"I didn't feel home. But you make it home," Erukhimova said.
When she isn't teaching, Erukhimova is involved in outreach. In 2021, she was involved in a study that included 10,000 students, physicists and other individuals in the sciences. The study revealed that men are not more suited for physics than women — a message she uses to this day.
"We collected midterm exams, final exams, final scores, final grade grades over 10 years. There was no consistent difference between a male and female performance on these exam scores. And I felt that this was a very important message for my students," Erukhimova said.
Former student Nicole Cirigioni praised Erukhimova's enthusiasm and dedication to teaching, saying, "You can tell when a teacher wants to be somewhere else. But when you walk into Dr. Tatiana's classroom, you can tell she wants you to be there. She cares and wants you to learn, which makes you want to learn, too."
Up next for Erukhimova is the "Physics and Engineering Festival" at A&M in April, an event that draws in thousands of people to campus every year. This festival is open to everyone, and according to Erukhimova, you don't need to be a scientist to celebrate science, just like you don't need to be a musician to attend a music festival.
Former student Callie Rethman said Erukhimova "always wants everything to be like a celebration of science."
"And I think that her videos going viral have really brought that celebration everywhere," she said.