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Joy C. Andrews earned a PhD in Biophysical Chemistry from UC Berkeley, USA (1995) where she researched photosynthesis in spinach with Prof. Ken Sauer. She was a postdoctoral associate with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (split between an NSF – funded program to study more creative ways of teaching chemistry, and further research in photosynthesis). She became Professor of Chemistry at California State University East Bay, CA, where she taught diverse groups of students and worked with them to study how plants could be used to solve metal pollution problems. Also, as a user of SSRL during that time she led trips to Washington DC to talk with congressional staff about how essential the DOE facilities are to fields as diverse as medicine, pollution control, national security and energy independence. In 2008 she joined the staff at SSRL at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. She leads the transmission X-ray microscopy program, and is particularly pleased to work in imaging because the data are visual and fun to work with. She studies nanoparticle uptake and transformation in plants, and chemical transformations in energy materials including batteries, fuel cells and catalysts. She is helping to develop methods to explore energy materials during operation, to understand their functioning on the nanoscale.
1) What inspired you to work in STEM?
I have always found that working out scientific problems was a fun puzzle for me, and I wanted to do more of it. I was also intrigued by the amazing amount of science and technology around me and how quickly it was developing and affecting so many parts of our lives – for example in medicine and imaging, in our computers and batteries, cell phones, etc. I was curious, and wanted to understand what it was about on a deep enough level to get into it and add something to it.
2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?
I am excited to work on the development of sustainable forms of energy that make sense in the long term. We are working on optimization of batteries and catalysts; both are important in storing and transforming alternative forms of energy. For example, we just published some work in the past year about imaging a Li-ion battery while it is operating, and another paper about measuring chemical changes in a catalyst that makes hydrocarbons, during reaction. This is an interdisciplinary process involving lots of people, and I’m glad to be a part of it. For these projects we worked with people who designed, synthesized and assembled the materials, and others who worked with us to characterize them and study their performance; with a goal to help design even better materials. We also get to work with unique equipment that is not available just anywhere, and it is exciting to push boundaries and see things that no one has before.
3) How can our country engage more women, girls and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
I went to an all-girls high school and university. Learning in all-female groups, often taught by women, contributed to my sense that I could be successful in science. I think having groups of young women in various age groups come learn about science in summer programs (such as Breakthrough Silicon Valley or other similar groups) can help to inspire girls and to give them a chance to get into it and ask lots of questions without being shy about it. It is also helpful for them to learn from and talk with women who are working at science and enjoying it.
4) Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
For those currently studying, I would say: Aim to understand the math and science problem solving you do, rather than memorize. You can apply that kind of problem solving almost anywhere - it is a wonderful tool! It takes good planning to work on homework with time to ask questions and fill in gaps where you don’t understand, but it really pays off. I would also say, don’t be intimidated by things that are difficult. For me science and math didn’t always come easily, but when I kept trying and practicing I eventually got it in a way that was satisfying. I still need this type of determination because for the research we do, knowledge and techniques are changing rapidly, and I am always learning new things. Overall, to enter a field like mine it is important be able to approach new problems and think creatively about their solutions, and to work in teams.
5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
One of my favorite hobbies is Scottish country dancing. It is done in groups, similar to square dancing, and together we dance in simple or complicated patterns. I especially like the big dances we have a couple of times a year where everyone dresses up and the men are in kilts. The live music and camaraderie are wonderful. I also enjoy hiking and being outside in pretty places. And I give back in my faith community by helping people out who are going through a rough time.