Driving innovation through diversity

Q&A with three rising stars in Argon.

In the 1960s, NASA included the contributions of three brilliant African-American women, which contributed to the progress of research and achievements of the United States space program. Their extraordinary work has done much to maintain the nation’s competitiveness in the 20th century space race, and it provides a compelling example of how the diversity of science fosters innovation and discovery.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory (DOE) recognizes the power of diversity in fostering innovation. The laboratory supports the scientific advancement of various groups of researchers at the beginning of their careers, including those who are in the postgraduate phase, covering the time between the completion of their doctoral philosophy. and appointment to the position of scientist. Dr. Argon conducts research in computer science, physics, materials science, chemistry, environmental science and many other disciplines.

On February 24 at 19:00 CST in Argon is a virtual event OutLoud, dedicated to attracting innovation through diversity. The public event will cover three African-American postdoc labs: Kevin Brown, Tabis Kunene and Devon Powers. In this question and answers three scholars from the beginning of their careers discuss their career paths and areas of research.

Brown is the first recipient of a Walter Messi Fellowship and a researcher in the Argon Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. Kunene is part of the Argonne Materials Division, and Powers is a postdoc in the Argonne Applied Materials Division.

How do you hope your work will contribute to the development of science and benefit society?

brown: I help develop future generations of supercomputers for use by world scientists. Today, supercomputers are used to accelerate discoveries in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by performing billions of calculations per second. But to solve tomorrow’s problems, you need to make supercomputers even faster. I want to make sure scientists have the computing tools needed to break into Earth’s climate forecasting, discover new drugs, develop electric vehicles and more.

Kunene: I want to help the world fight climate change by achieving a clean carbon economy. At Argon, I hope to improve the preparation of materials that convert carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into valuable fuel. Today’s technology relies on the bulk properties of catalytic materials, which are materials that promote chemical reactions. The dream is to use just a few atoms as catalysts and at the same time increase the amount of fuel produced by the amount of carbon dioxide.

Powers: I am happy to help demonstrate the possibility of new ideas for advanced batteries that would help us move to clean energy. In my work I help to show how unusual materials can be collected in the laboratory to obtain interesting and useful properties for different battery applications. If I can show that these ideas can be scaled to a level useful to the industry, it would be even better. I am also interested in developing materials that can use electrochemistry to solve other energy and environmental problems.

What positives and pitfalls have you encountered in your career so far?

brown: Throughout my career, I have been surrounded by people who are passionate about delving into the unknown, effectively creating new knowledge for humanity. This inspires me to continue to question the status quo and think about the famous “what’s next?” in my field. Studying supercomputers has allowed me to travel the world and chat with some of today’s most influential leaders in STEM. Unfortunately, to get this position, you need training, resources and professional networks that are difficult to access for most whose socio-economic conditions do not allow them to reap these benefits. On the other hand, the ongoing efforts of Argonne and other organizations to create accessible STEM pathways have a significant impact on addressing this issue.

Kunene: I realized my limited experience and background knowledge of instrumental techniques relevant to my current research. However, one of the benefits of staying in Argon is that other graduate students were more than willing to help and direct me to relevant resources. It helped me catch up in a very short amount of time.

Powers: The most positive things I remember are interacting with other amazing researchers, especially those who have tremendous depth of understanding and are very down to earth. It never ceases to amaze me. My pitfalls tend to involve an intersection between my expectations and the reality of the experiment. There was a situation when I realized that our approach to the experiment was not working as we expected. It was (obviously) a little boring to watch my scheduled experiments go up in smoke, but we learned about the system enough to find a solution that worked well for us.

What do you advise students and graduate students in your field?

brown: I will share the advice I give myself: in every interaction and experience, even in the negative, there is a great opportunity.

Kunene: I would say work hard and be kind to people. Personally, I’ve learned that people are always willing to help you, but you have to lower your ego and give people a reason to do anything to help or give you advice when you need it.

Powers: Sometimes your work is long and you have to wait and work for years before embarking on a project that fascinates you. Hold on. Don’t forget to go home from time to time (no matter what “home” may mean). Studying can be difficult, and a good rest. But even more, it’s good to remember what and who inspired you to start in the first place.

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