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Women @ Energy: Athena Sefat

June 24, 2013 - 11:15am

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Dr. Athena S. Sefat is a scientist at the Materials Sciences and Technology Division of the Physical Sciences Directorate at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Dr. Athena S. Sefat is a scientist at the Materials Sciences and Technology Division of the Physical Sciences Directorate at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

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Dr. Athena S. Sefat is a scientist at the Materials Sciences and Technology Division of the Physical Sciences Directorate at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Athena was born in Tehran, Iran, and migrated as a teenager to Toronto, Canada. She obtained her B.S. and Ph.D. in (solid-state) Chemistry from McMaster University, Canada.  She then spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow in the Condensed Matter Physics group at Ames Laboratory.  Following this, she joined ORNL as a Eugene P. Wigner Fellow. During her Fellowship program, she won the DOE Office of Science Early Career Research Award, which has granted her the funding for her research program in Basic Energy Sciences on the topic of fundamental reasons for unconventional superconductivity in two-dimensional layered materials. At ORNL, she is also the principal investigator of a couple of other projects that involve the making of superconducting wires and the exploration of superconductivity in three-dimensionally structured materials. Athena has authored more than 140 refereed scientific articles that have been cited more than 4000 times, has given numerous invited seminars, and has organized scientific symposia at conferences.  She has won several awards, including the Gordon Battelle Award for Scientific Group Discovery and ORNL’s Science & Technology Early Career Award for Scientific Accomplishment. Athena’s current research interests involve the design and synthesis of functional materials related to energy technologies, and their advanced thermodynamic and transport property characterizations.

1) What inspired you to work in STEM?

I love nature and find it magical, intriguing, and fascinating. I feel humbled, for example, by the intricate features on leaves and the tiny insects that operate and carry life. So, I was inspired to be a scientist in the field of chemistry and physics in order to feed my curiosity for understanding things on the atomic scale and collectively. In a way, my career allows me to feel closer to mother nature.

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

In order to be the best in one's field, one needs to work for the best and also be in the company of the brightest. It is my privilege to be part of the workforce at the Energy Department. Its excellent scientific resources and organization are key to its outstanding position. Being part of a team that is delivering scientific discoveries and responding to the materials challenges that are a national priority for the future of our country’s clean energy and security, is my great motivation. 

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

Better education and exposure to sciences from a young age is important for all children. The engagement of more females in sciences will come with (a) leading by example, i.e. more females stepping up, doing well, and insisting on taking the lead; (b) each organization’s attempt to change old culture and mindsets about female figures in competitive work environments.

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

A few pieces of advice that I would give young people are: try to be the best you can be in your chosen field; work diligently and passionately; if you truly believe a ‘yes,’ do not ever take a ‘no’ for an answer.

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

I enjoy listening to the sounds and sights of nature, so I can easily spend hours listening and observing from my patio. Exercising in the gym, hiking, and dancing have always been big parts of my life.

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