Features - February 2016

NETL Celebrates First International Day of Women and Girls in Science

February 11, 2016, has been designated by the United Nations as the first International Day of Women and Girls in Science—a day for the international community to acknowledge the triumphs and struggles of female scientists across the globe and to encourage women and girls to pursue their scientific dreams.

Worldwide, women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and face numerous roadblocks on their path toward a career in these fields. As a result, the advancement of the global community, already in dire need of talented scientists, has been consistently impeded.

This precious resource—our scientists, engineers, and researchers—could be significantly expanded and improved by the inclusion of more women. It’s impossible to say how many groundbreaking discoveries may have been achieved had women not been discouraged in their career path, but one thing is certain: we must continue to break down the barriers that have traditionally kept women from filling roles as successful scientists.

At the National Energy Laboratory (NETL), we recognize the vital role our female scientists, researchers, and engineers play in our laboratory’s success and hope they serve as an example and inspiration to the upcoming generation of STEM stars. In honor of the first International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we would like to profile a few of the immensely talented women advancing energy research at NETL.

Ale Hakala

Scientific curiosity has always been a driving force for Dr. Alexandra (Ale) Hakala. While living in Chile and snowboarding in the Andes Mountains, she asked questions about the rock formations and the different geologic layers she saw around her. In these moments, she knew she had discovered a passion, one that would lead to her current research in the geological side of energy production.

Ale

Since joining NETL in 2008, Hakala has proven innovative, inspirational, and driven. Her environmental research in pursuit of a clean and safe energy future for the United States and the world, her professional commitment, and her personal desire to communicate her inspiration and findings to others make her a valuable asset to the lab.

Hakala, a geochemist, has contributed to innovative research on groundwater chemistry, carbon capture and storage, and shale gas development. As part of a multidisciplinary team, she has worked to develop novel mitigation and monitoring methods for geologic carbon storage and shale gas systems. Hakala’s environmental geochemistry skills have greatly improved our understanding of toxic and nontoxic metals mobility in groundwater systems, long-term geologic storage of carbon dioxide (CO2), and safe and prudent natural gas development—all important to mitigating climate change and enabling safe and sustainable energy resource development.

To Hakala, one of the most rewarding parts of working at NETL has been the opportunity to work with other dedicated researchers.
“The greatest rewards in performing research at NETL are the opportunities to work on projects that address sustainable energy resource development, and the ability to work with colleagues who are both excellent researchers and amazing individuals,” she said.

Outside of research, Hakala spends time snowboarding and blogging about snowsports and geology.

Barbara Kutchko

Barb

Since joining NETL in 20014, Dr. Barbara Kutchko’s pioneering work has consistently supported the environmentally sustainable development of the nation’s oil and gas resources by improving the integrity and longevity of foamed cements. These cements serve as a crucial barrier between the produced oil and gas and the upper layers of rock that contain sources of drinking water, or, in the case of offshore drilling, the ocean itself. Without this critical cement confinement, oil and gas drilling could not be safely undertaken because of the upward migration of the fossil fuels. To this end, Kutchko’s work couples abundant, reliable energy resources with responsible environmental stewardship.

Kutchko currently represents NETL on the American Petroleum Institute Cement Subcommittee 10C, which develops and maintains standards on oil and gas wellbore cementing procedures for the U.S. petroleum industry. Although her primary research focus is oil and gas wellbore integrity, Kutchko also works to mitigate the environmental impacts associated with deepwater offshore drilling. That expertise was called upon in April 2010, during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, when the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Justice sought out Kutchko to conduct forensic analysis on the cement that was believed to have blown out of the well during the explosion. Her work proved invaluable, and, in recognition of her efforts, she was awarded a Certificate of Commendation for outstanding performance and invaluable assistance in support of the activities of the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.

Kutchko’s interest in science stretches back to when she was a young girl. “I’m one of those odd characters that just always wanted to be a scientist, to be a researcher,” She said. “I can’t remember a time in my life that I didn’t want to be a scientist. I loved all the sciences.”

She sees a similar dream as a possibility for all young women. “I think the best way is the same approach my parents had with me,” she said. “If a young girl shows an interest in science, then that needs to be supported in whatever manner it takes.”
In addition to her dedication to science, Kutchko volunteers in her spare time as a walker and horse leader for In-Stride with Therapeutic Riding, Inc., an organization that provides horseback riding with therapeutic benefits to children and adults with disabilities.

Kelly Rose

Kelly

A woman of many talents, Kelly Rose fulfills multiple roles at NETL. A geology‑geospatial researcher with NETL’s Research and Innovation Center (RIC), Rose’s research is focused on using geologic and geospatial science to characterize, understand, and reduce uncertainty about spatial relationships between energy and natural systems at a range of scales.

She serves on several national and international advisory committees, including the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Geologic and Geophysical Data Preservation Program, the United Nations Environmental Programme’s global outlook on methane gas hydrates, New Zealand’s Gas Hydrate Resources Program, and the University of Southern California’s Induced Seismicity and Reservoir Monitoring Consortiums.

Rose is associate editor for the Journal of Sustainable Energy Engineering, and a member of NETL’s Synergistic Fossil Integrations for Renewable Energy (SFIRE) team, which seeks to find hybrid energy solutions to support sustainable and environmentally responsible energy needs. She is also the Technical Lead for NETL’s Offshore Energy Resources Research Portfolio, which is focused on reducing risks and impacts associated with offshore hydrocarbon development. Rose serves as

Coordinator for NETL’s EDX (Energy Data eXchange), an online knowledge-management and coordination-and-collaboration tool developed by Rose and the EDX team.

As a mentor and advisor, Rose has had a positive impact on many early career scientists in a broad range of disciplines, including geology, geophysics, geography, geospatial analysis, geochemistry, microbiology, applied mathematics, and geosystems modeling. Since 2007, she has shared her expertise and insight with more than 34 undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral fellows who were supported through the Oak Ridge Institute for Science & Education (ORISE) and the Mickey Leland Fellowship Program.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with others and forming strong collaborative partnerships,” She said. “At NETL, primarily through the ORISE program, I’ve had the opportunity to mentor a number of earnest, inspiring, and thought-provoking scientists.”
In her free time, Rose plays clarinet with the Willamette (Oregon) Valley Symphony.

Working Towards a Brighter Future

These are just a few of the many brilliant women who push the boundaries of innovation every day at NETL. The laboratory is committed to fostering an environment in which women can lead successful careers as scientists and reach out to inspire the next generation. Our nation has already seen the benefits of their groundbreaking work through advancements in energy and environmental science.

The future of science depends on the inclusion of women. That is why NETL is celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science and why the lab will continue to work so diligently to promote the values this day represents all year long.
For more information about the amazing women advancing energy research at the U.S. Department of Energy, please visit the Department’s Women in STEM blog.