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Women @ Energy: Johanna Nelson

March 18, 2013 - 11:18am


Johanna Nelson is a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford Institute for Materials & Energy Science at Stanford University.

Johanna Nelson is a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford Institute for Materials & Energy Science at Stanford University.

Johanna Nelson is a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford Institute for Materials & Energy Science at Stanford University. Her work is based at Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, part of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Her current research focuses on the development and employment of advanced X-ray techniques to characterize energy storage devices in situ. She earned her Ph.D. in physics from Stony Brook University in 2010. Her doctoral work on X-ray diffraction microscopy (or coherent diffractive imaging) was performed at the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

1) What inspired you to work in STEM?

When I was in junior high school, my older brother would come home from college and teach me the fantastic new concepts that he was learning in his math and physics classes. His own excitement sparked my interest in the subjects. In addition, my parents always supported the notion that their daughters were smart, powerful women who could accomplish anything into which they put their hearts and minds. “Power to the women!” was and continues to be one of our family battle cries.

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

I work at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Working here allows me to collaborate with scientists and engineers with a wide range of backgrounds and expertise. Because I work at a synchrotron that is a dedicated user facility, I get to work with visiting scientists who travel from all over the country and the world to do experiments on our machine. Although my degree is in physics, I often work side-by-side with material scientists, chemists, biologists, and geologists on problems that push the boundaries of both our fields of study. Ever day provides a different set of interesting and challenging problems to solve.

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

Obviously, there is no silver bullet that will fix the underrepresentation of groups in STEM; otherwise we would have already implemented it. However, there are two factors I think are important for our country to invest in. First, we need to change society’s stereotype of who a STEM worker is. We can already see dramatic improvements in the number of women earning bachelors in biology and chemistry as society’s view of those fields have become more gender neutral. We see significantly fewer improvements in other areas such as computer science and engineering. In these fields the stereotypical worker continues to be a socially awkward, Caucasian male. Secondly, we need to increase support for working women so they can have successful STEM careers and families without requiring them to have superhuman abilities. This should include paid maternity and paternity leave especially at the postdoctoral level and adaptable work schedules including flexibility in tenure-track timelines.

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

Find a good mentor.  Whether male or female, young or old, it’s important to have someone with experience who can both inspire and coach you.

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

I love hiking and camping.  There are tons of great hiking areas around the northern California Bay Area. I also love when I get the chance to go horseback riding or scuba diving.