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Scientific Diplomacy: Berkeley Lab Hosts 2016 TechWomen

State Department’s Mentoring Program Fosters Global Network of Female Scientists

September 30, 2016

Linda Vu, lvu@lbl.gov, 510.495.2402

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TechWomen at the Molecular Foundry. From left to right: Ureshnie Govender, Teresa Williams, Daniela Ushizima and Angeline Kasina. (Photo courtesy of Teresa Williams, Berkeley Lab)

“The world is not an island. It is good to see what other people do, understand what challenges they face, have an exchange of culture, experimental ideas, and to learn from different approaches to research,” says Angeline Kasina, Assistant Lecturer at the Technical University of Kenya.  

Kasina was one of two researchers visiting the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) last month as a participant in the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affair’s TechWomen—an international exchange that brings emerging women leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) from Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East together with their professional counterparts in the U.S. and gives them access to networks, resources and industry contacts. This year, TechWomen brought approximately 90 women representing 19 countries to the San Francisco Bay Area. 

This was Berkeley Lab’s fifth year participating in the program. Ureshnie Govender, a Senior Scientist at South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), was the other participant to visit Berkeley Lab. Daniela Ushizima, Staff Scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Computational Research Division (CRD), and Teresa Williams, Principal Scientific Engineering Associate at the Molecular Foundry, co-hosted the emerging leaders.

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TechWomen visit Berkeley Institute for Data Science (BIDS). From left to right: Daniela Ushizima (Berkeley Lab), Ureshnie Govender (CSIR), Angeline Kasina (Technical University of Kenya), Saul Perlmutter (Berkeley Lab / UC Berkeley) and Fernando Perez (Berkeley Lab). (Photo Courtesy of Daniel Ushizima, Berkeley Lab)

During their visit, Govender and Kasina got a firsthand look at the interdisciplinary and collaborative research culture at Berkeley Lab. Ushizima and Williams are currently collaborating on a project that investigates the use of block copolymers to direct the assembly of nanocrystals into mesoporous frameworks. Williams notes that these materials, or films, have a variety of energy efficiency applications, such as energy storage, use in smart windows and electrodes. 

“Using typical electron imaging techniques, we are only able to visualize the surface of the film and learn nothing about the internal structure,” says Williams. “With a specialized electron microscope at the Molecular Foundry, I can create a three-dimensional (3D) representation of the framework. Daniela can then apply her algorithms to characterize the material’s internal structure. She can tell us where the matter and empty spaces are, this allows us to have a quantitative description of the films.”

As part of their visit, Kasina and Govender visited Williams at the Molecular Foundry and watched her create and image the films. They then worked with Ushizima’s algorithms to characterize some of the structures. 

“Watching how Daniela, a computational researcher, and Teresa, a materials scientist, work together gave me insights into how interfaculty research projects can be created, motivated and matured. So when I go back to Kenya to work on my physics projects, I will now tap into colleagues in chemistry and math, which I have never thought to do,” says Kasina. “Coming to Berkeley Lab and seeing how this collaboration is done and how it works, it’s fantastic.”

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TechWomen visit NERSC. From left to right: Jackie Scoggins (NERSC), Daniela Ushizima (Berkeley Lab), Mark Green (Cray), Teresa Williams (Berkeley Lab), Angeline Kasina (Technical University of Kenya) and Ureshnie Govender (CSIR). (Photo Courtesy of Daniela Ushizima, Berkeley Lab).

Kasina also notes that her visit to the Molecular Foundry was especially eye opening. “They have so many machines that I didn’t even know existed,” she says. “Visiting Berkeley Lab gave me a chance to learn new techniques for analyzing materials and to build on my own technical skills. And while it may not be possible to buy the same equipment in Kenya, I now know that the Molecular Foundry has a user program so faculty and students from the Technical University of Kenya can write proposals to come here and use this equipment.”

“My time spent with Daniela and Teresa has empowered me with knowledge and skills that I can use for research and development of medical innovation designed for social impact in South Africa,” says Govender. “Additionally they have opened doors for networking allowing me the full experience of learning not only from them but with other experts at Berkeley at the Molecular Foundry, NERSC (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center), BIDS (Berkeley Institute for Data Science) among others. I am genuinely grateful as I have new insights and networks into tackling dire health issues such as HIV in my country.” 

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TechWomen at Berkeley Lab's Workforce Development & Education (WD&E) reception on Sept. 19, which recognized all employees who have volunteered for mentoring, outreach, and educational programs. (Photo by Marilyn Chung, Berkeley Lab)

Because Govender and Kasina also have interests in educational outreach, essentially inspiring the next-generation of women to pursue careers in STEM, as well as technology transfer, the Berkeley Lab hosts also introduced them to staff in the Lab’s Workforce Development & Education, as well as Innovations and Partnerships. 

“What I’ve come to realize is that no matter where I go in the world women are made to feel a certain way,” says Govender. “What I love about the TechWomen program is that we have been exposed to amazing female leaders. And I think this is what we want to give back to young girls in our respective countries. We want to tell them that you can be feminine and still be an amazing leader, and also have a successful career in science, math, technology and engineering.”

“I’ve participated in TechWomen before, but this year’s experience is truly special and unique because between the four of us, we really are looking at the end to end of science,” says Ushizima. “Both Angeline and Teresa have experience in materials design from raw compounds, I work on data analysis and pattern recognition, and Ureshnie’s specialty is bridging that gap between research and market. It’s been really interesting to learn from each other.”

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world’s most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab’s scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel prizes.

The Molecular Foundry and NERSC are DOE Office of Science User Facilities.

About Computing Sciences at Berkeley Lab

High performance computing plays a critical role in scientific discovery. Researchers increasingly rely on advances in computer science, mathematics, computational science, data science, and large-scale computing and networking to increase our understanding of ourselves, our planet, and our universe. Berkeley Lab’s Computing Sciences Area researches, develops, and deploys new foundations, tools, and technologies to meet these needs and to advance research across a broad range of scientific disciplines.