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Women @ Energy: Punita Sinha

March 12, 2014 - 4:32pm

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Punita Sinha is a computer scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. She is currently the group leader of the B Physics Simulations CS group leader, where she works on and manages a team of computer scientist s working on HPC (high performance computing ) multi-physics, massively parallel simulations codes.

Punita Sinha is a computer scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. She is currently the group leader of the B Physics Simulations CS group leader, where she works on and manages a team of computer scientist s working on HPC (high performance computing ) multi-physics, massively parallel simulations codes.

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Punita Sinha is a computer scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. She is currently the group leader of the B Physics Simulations CS group leader, where she works on and manages a team of computer scientist s working on HPC (high performance computing ) multi-physics, massively parallel simulations codes. Since joining the Lab in 1998 she has worked in various projects across the lab, from scientific data management, NIF supervisory control systems, and project lead for CASC research application.  Prior to joining the lab she had worked in IBM for over a decade, as a software developer, as well as a short stint in business development with data management tools.  Punita has served as a past Chair of the SWING (Software Improvement Networking Group) steering committee, Chair of Asian Pacific AmericanCouncil and as the co-chair of the Women's History Month Committee.  She holds an M.S degree in Computer Science from Boston University and a BS in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics.

1) What inspired you to work in STEM?

My father was a Physicist, and later a Professor of Theoretical Physics. I grew up in a neighborhood where most of the families had a father who was working as a scientist. We even had the occasional woman scientist. There were doctoral students at the Lab and Institutes, where my father worked, which had women students. My father often spoke about his work at the dinner table, speaking about the exciting breakthroughs in his field, and about the latest happenings, and the people in his field. The celebrities in our family were the Nobel Prize winners, and he spoke about meeting them in the various conferences he attended.

All of this made inspired me to be more like him. Science was interesting, and exciting. It promised to help in understanding the world around us. What were the essential elements in time, space and matter?  In school, I found that the science classes were much more interesting than history or language, which consisted more of memorization, rather than real understanding. So, I naturally moved towards the sciences for my undergraduate degree.  My undergraduate college required one to specialize in 3 separate subjects – and I chose Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. My most enjoyable subject was pure Math and Logic.  After graduating, I entered a world where Computer Science was the up and coming field.  I took some courses in introductory Computer Science and found I took to it most naturally, so I ended my doing an MS in Computer Science. My first job was at IBM’s Santa Teresa Lab in San Jose, where I worked in Compiler Development. Later I also worked on Software tools – such as a program understanding and Code restructuring tools – as well as a stint in Business Development with their Data Management tools. In 1998 I joined Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory – working in Scientific Data Management, later working in NIF’s control systems software development, project leader for a research code – SAMRAI and eventually being a group leader for a team of computer scientists working in the Lab’s multi-physics simulations code.

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

At the Department of Energy we have state of the art supercomputers, and we frequently have the #1 fastest or greenest computers in the world, even though of late, China has taken over the number one spot.  Being first on state of the art computers, means we are on the bleeding edge, so our teams are very challenged by moving our codes to these platforms. Our work is requiring us to get even more innovative, working with vendors and the HPC community across the world. Our researchers and developers are really pushing the envelope on massively parallel codes. We are also very multi-disciplinary in the scientific area, so all of my education comes into play.  We are forced to have to be open to working with different degrees of folks who may not be familiar with our technology, or we may not understand theirs. These present their own challenges, but at the same time it is very gratifying when we can all work together to come up with solutions to important national goals.

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

We need to have girls and women get comfortable in the scientific arena, which starts when they are very young.  Having people who work with, or have jobs related to STEM fields, around them gives them a role model, and/or familiarity with the area.  Our media tends to focus on entertainment and political news, only the public TV or public radio tend to have shows or events on science.  Having close family members, or having STEM professionals visit schools would get them familiar with these professions.

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

Writing software is a fun, if you like to solve puzzles and brainteasers, then this is the right field for you. Writing good software is also an art as well as a science. In elementary and middle school I would recommend students to try out their hand on writing software. There are plenty of free tools out there on the Internet. In high school I would recommend taking classes in Computer Science and then majoring in this field in College. There are also plenty of journals and free information out there on the Internet. Stackoverflow.com is a site that professionals use to answer questions on software. There are also many online courses offered by major universities such as Stanford and MIT, and at introductory levels there is the online Khan Academy. The best way of getting your foot in the door is doing student internships – this can even start at the high school level. Our lab tends to hire college level juniors and higher.  Make sure your grades are good and enjoy the field.  There are endless possibilities, and there is continued demand for good computer scientists.

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