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Women @ Energy: Hye-Sook Park

March 12, 2013 - 1:17pm

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Dr. Hye-Sook Park has developed experimental techniques in plasma physics, materials science, nuclear physics, and astrophysics that have significantly enriched fundamental science, applied science, and national security science.

Dr. Hye-Sook Park has developed experimental techniques in plasma physics, materials science, nuclear physics, and astrophysics that have significantly enriched fundamental science, applied science, and national security science.

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Dr. Hye-Sook Park has developed experimental techniques in plasma physics, materials science, nuclear physics, and astrophysics that have significantly enriched fundamental science, applied science, and national security science. Hye-Sook is an exemplar of experimental versatility, with a remarkable ability to step across science and technology boundaries to develop new experimental techniques and achieve new results with keen interdisciplinary insights. Hye-Sook began her study of physics at Pfeiffer College in North Carolina.  After she obtained her BS in physics in 1981, she became a graduate student at the University of Michigan.  She focused on experimental high-energy particle physics, obtaining her PhD in 1985.  At that time she accepted a post doc position at the University of California, Berkeley, and then one at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in 1987.  She has been a staff scientist at LLNL since 1989.

1) What inspired you to work in STEM?

I always liked numbers. Math was my better language to express many phenomena around me than written statements. Scientific fields fitted my merits better in this regard. In addition, there was another very simple naive reason: I wanted to demonstrate that I could be as smart as the boys in science. Physics was the male-dominated field when I was young in Korea. I wanted to see whether I could be in this ‘forbidden’ group. I now know that the science community is not forbidden to the girls – it is just so amazingly unexplored field for both boys and girls.

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

I am working on the best laser facility on earth, the National Ignition Facility (NIF), a DOE facility. There are so much excitement in working on NIF. I do target physics experiments on high-energy density physics that include studying materials under extreme condition and laboratory astrophysics. Because of NIF’s unique high-power laser capability, every time I do an experiment on NIF, there is so much amazing new previously-unknown science that comes out. What could be better for a scientist being able to use the best facility to do the best science and discover wonders of new science?

Another example of my previous DOE sponsored experiment was the Irvine-Michigan-Brookhaven (IMB) experiment that detected the neutrinos from the Super-Nova 1987A. This was my Ph.D. thesis experiment and I still vividly remember going down into the salt mine near Cleveland under Lake Erie. For a petite female graduate student (like me), they had to order new pairs of salt-miner qualified helmets and safety shoes. This was certainly one of the best projects in my life.

These are just a couple of examples. I believe that DOE supports the best science experiments; always cutting-edge science.

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

Exposure to scientific fields and setting examples may be the best way to attract women and young girls. I like the programs such as ‘Expanding Your Horizon’ program that is open to 6-12 grade girls sponsored by LLNL here in the Livermore area. I volunteer in science classes or stand by a booth whenever my schedule allows. I see the young girls are awed by their new findings in science when I demonstrated how they could see the cosmic rays in a cloud chamber. They learn that the scientific method is within their reach and expand their thinking. We need to have more of this kind of programs all around the world. They also need more female mentors so that girls could be more comfortable in getting advice easily in science.

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

You should be passionate what you do. Don’t settle on just being average. Aim high and work hard to be one of the best in your field. Find the project that you care about most. Once you are in the field, work on details. Step-by-step approach gets you further than a home-run approach in the long run.

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

I play piano. I like classical music of Bach – his 2,3,4,5 voices are very mathematical/logical to me and makes the most beautiful music; I also like Shubert and Chopin. When I have extra time, I also like to garden – many different flowers always amaze me. I like to travel different countries for conferences whenever I am allowed. 

 

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