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Women @ Energy: Ashfia Huq

March 25, 2013 - 12:27pm

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Ashfia Huq is a Lead Scientist of the Powgen beamline, in the Chemical and Engineering Materials Division at the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Ashfia Huq is a Lead Scientist of the Powgen beamline, in the Chemical and Engineering Materials Division at the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

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Ashfia Huq is a Lead Scientist of the Powgen beamline in the Chemical and Engineering Materials Division at the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Ashfia was born in Bangladesh and after finishing high school in Dhaka, she attended Mount Holyoke College in MA for her undergraduate degree. Ashfia double majored in Physics and Computer Science,  then headed to State University of New York at Stony Brook and joined a theory group working on modeling. Following her second year of grad school, she was introduced to the Department of Energy through Professor Peter Stephens, and joined his group for the X-ray beamline at NSLS.  Ashfia moved to Argonne National Lab’s Intense Pulsed Neutron Source in 2003 working as a post doc at the General Purpose Powder Diffraction (GPPD) Beamline.  In 2006, she was hired as an instrument scientist for the powder diffraction beamline (Powgen) at the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and currently serves as their lead scientist.

1) What inspired you to work in STEM?

My first inspiration was my father who was an amazing teacher and always patiently answered the questions to my perpetual “whys”.   My favorite subject in school was mathematics and when I first got introduced to physics in high school, I appreciated the beauty of math even more.  I was fascinated that one could write down equations and calculate real life phenomenon. In college I majored in Physics and Computer Science and in my senior year in college I took a course in Solid State Physics at UMASS at Amherst.  I enjoyed it so much that I knew I wanted to have a career in materials physics.  The person who finally made it possible to achieve that goal was my thesis supervisor who trained me in the wonderful world of studying structure of materials to understand their physical and chemical properties using X-rays and neutrons.

2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?

One of the major challenges we are currently facing is meeting the energy needs for the world.  Even though most of the work I do is considered basic science, I am always excited about the fact that the work eventually helps in understanding and developing better materials for energy storage.  The other amazing part of my work is that by being at a user facility I get to work with science groups from all over the world on a large spectrum of materials that span from the study of superconductivity to electrochemical storage.  In this capacity I also have the opportunity to train and work with graduate students and post docs who are the future generation of scientists and I enjoy that very much. 

3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

Growing up in Bangladesh, I never heard that girls couldn’t do math.  It shocked me when I heard that some of my friends in college were frequently told that in U.S.  I think the first step in getting girls interested in STEM is to invest in teachers at all stages of school.  We need to stop gender discrimination in schools and empower them at an early age by having role models who can make science and math fun for all. 

4) Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?

Do it because you love it and you can’t imagine doing anything else.  Don’t let anyone bully you, stick to it and don’t give up when it gets hard.

5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies? 

I love to sing, bake, cook, hike and travel in my free time.  Every year I take a few weeks off to go to a different country.  I also enjoy listening to music from all over the world and reading.

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