How would you picture a Professor of Astrophysics and Marine Geophysics? A grey-haired guy with glasses maybe?
Whatever people might have expected, most are surprised when they meet Dr. S. E. Iversen for the first time. They got the hair color right, though.
The professor’s full name is Solveig Eiger Iversen. That doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue easily, even if people know how to pronounce Solveig (SOHL-vay, with a silent G). Her second name usually causes even more raised eyebrows and questions. Eiger? Like the mountain? Exactly…
Solveig’s father was an enthusiastic mountaineer in his youth. Climbing the Eiger North Wall was a very challenging- if not life threatening- undertaking, and he swore he’d call his firstborn “Eiger” if he would survive the ascent. He did survive – and his firstborn was a girl. Her mother insisted on Solveig as a first name and her father wanted to stick to his word. Solveig takes her second name in good humour. She always says she’s glad her Dad didn’t climb Trollsteineggi, a mountain close to his hometown in Norway. Solveig usually tells the story to break the ice when she gives a seminar.
Solveig is a guest lecturer at university, but most of her time she works in research. When people outside scientific circles ask her what she does for a living, she usually tells them “Something like climate change research”. The female gender ratio in astrophysics is just about 15-20%, and even in 2023 Solveig is faced with questions why on earth a woman would be interested in physics. She’s a bit tired of explaining herself, so she just keeps it simple.
It’s not even a lie, but the climate change aspect is just a small fraction of her research. The research group is part of an international, multidisciplinary project to investigate celestial hydrospheres amongst many other things. And of course Solveig knows from experience that talking about galactic habitable zones, exoplanets and hydrospheres, water movement or cryosphere physics has the same effect on people as if she’d suddenly start to yodel.
She knows that her interest in science seems exotic to a lot of people, but for her it was a natural developmet. Solveig often jokes that she became a physicist because nobody told her she couldn’t. Even as a kid she liked structures, logic and numbers, and she was encouraged to follow her interests.
Her father was not only a climber, he was also a geographer. Her mom – enthusiastic birdwatcher and herbalist – never left the house without her binoculars. Solveig and her younger brother Haldor grew up surrounded by scientific journals, instruments, rock samples and minerals. And of course lots of books. Solveig accompanied her father on many sample collecting trips. Her favorite find was a meteorite, and she loved to read science fiction stories. Her mom taught her the constellations, the whole family shares the interest in astronomy and a general joy of discovery. They went to visit an astronomical observatory for her eleventh birthday and spent the night watching stars. Just like her parents Solveig wanted to know what was out there – and how everything works. And just like the rest of her family she is by no means a fachidiot, she is interested in many things.
And while her family doesn’t think her chosen career is in any way particular, they sometimes wonder why on earth she likes those loud 70s patterns so much. Solveig’s brother always complains that her wallpaper gives him a headache. She likes vibrant colors and geometric patterns on her walls just as much as she likes to wear them. Maybe she prefers them because she went grey in her early twenties. Which came as a shock, but she soon realized that her grey hair worked to her advantage. She looked older and was taken more seriously. Solveig has a thing for pencil skirts and sheath dresses, and this preference adds to the mature look. At least at work, leisurewear is a completely different thing.
When her time and the location allows it she likes to join her brother Haldor when he’s filming. Haldor is a biologist and independant wildlife filmmaker. Scouting and tracking, setting up camp, cooking, organizing stuff…there are a lot of things to do and she enjoys helping him. Solveig and Haldor used to do things like that when they went on trips with their father, and they make a good team. There is also a lot of silent watching and waiting, and for both of them it’s almost meditative, quiet sibling bonding time. Her brother has been working with the same camera assistant and sound guy for years, they are like family.
Since most of her working day is spent at a computer she wants to be outdoors as much as she can. She loves kayaking, swimming and hiking. Sore muscles, dirty clothes, itching insect bites, sunburn and lots of exercise – that’s Solveig’s idea of a weekend well spent.