Brookhaven Early Career Professionals Meet Nobel Laureates in Kyoto, Japan

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Newswise – KYOTO, JAPAN – Three early-career professionals at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory had the opportunity to meet Nobel laureates, discuss pressing global issues and explore historic Kyoto, Japan at the 19th annual meeting of the Science and Technology in Society (STS) Forum. The annual meeting, held from October 1-4 this year, brought together nearly 1,000 leaders from around the world representing organizations involved in science and technology, policy-making, business and the media. .

Megan Magrum, Group Leader in the Laboratory’s Safety and Health Services Division, Daniel Forino, Division Leader in the Laboratory’s Integrated Facilities Management Division, and Peter Denton, High Energy Theory Physicist , attended the three-day forum as part of STS. Young Leaders Program. As a forward-looking organization, STS has established this program to encourage the participation and prospects of outstanding young people in scientific and technical roles. Each of Brookhaven Lab’s appointed representatives came away from the experience with a unique perspective on the role science and technology will play in the challenges ahead.

Make connections

Being able to speak with the Nobel Laureates one-on-one gave attendees a unique opportunity to see their achievements in a larger setting. Listening to them reminisce about the early days of their careers gave young leaders inspiration and insight into their own career trajectories.

“It was interesting to hear the variety of life experiences from each of the winners and how they reached this point in their careers,” Magrum said. “It was surprising to find out that this was a journey that few had planned. Not everyone took a straight path, which I found relevant given my experience in both research and in industry, all of whom expressed how fortunate they felt to have the opportunity and ability to carry out the research they were interested in.

“When you start realizing who you’re talking to, it’s a very humbling experience, but the deeper we got into these big topics, the more equal we started to feel,” Forino said. “Much of the content of this conference corresponded to my interests, my training and my career. I was excited to discuss new clean energy technologies like blue hydrogen and blue ammonia, chemicals that are still produced from fossil fuels but in a cleaner way that captures emissions of carbon. I was also able to learn about a net zero carbon steel mill in partnership with Volvo, which is important as steel mills are one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions.

Some of the topics the Young Leaders engaged the laureates on went beyond research and challenged how the scientific community is built and nurtured. Education was a prominent topic, with many participants having strong ties to academic institutions and a window into what it is like for young researchers and students.

“One of the most productive discussions I had was with award winner Brian Schmidt,” recalls Denton. “He’s not just an astrophysicist, but the Vice-Chancellor and President of the Australian National University. We talked about education, mentoring and how we train scientists, thinking about what we do good and what could be improved Often the focus is just on science, but we need ideas on how to attract and retain new people in these fields, starting with education He had a number of ideas, and while it doesn’t seem as broad as some of the other areas, like climate research, it’s still an important global issue that needs to be discussed.

A global experience

The STS forum not only brought together a wide range of people from all over the world, but was held in Kyoto, one of the oldest cities in Japan. Participants had the opportunity to explore the culturally rich landscape of Japan’s former capital.

“There was so much history to see all over the city,” Magrum said, “and it was easy to see, even walking around a bit during off-peak hours. It was hard to plan a trip, especially with pandemic restrictions, but the experience was worth it.

“Kyoto was beautiful and we also got to see Tokyo and Osaka during the trip,” Forino explained. “Japan’s infrastructure was really interesting. Public transportation was so intuitive that we felt comfortable using it fairly quickly which made getting around a breeze. While I probably took about four photos of historic sites, I took at least 20 of the clean, beautiful subways.

It was easy to draw comparisons to how Japan handles energy and environmental challenges while being immersed in culture, but speakers and award winners representing other regions did their best to give attendees a more clear about the problems they were facing at home and the steps they were taking. take to deal with it.

“It was interesting to see how each country solves its energy problems,” Magrum said. “Each region’s environment can play an important role in their approach to energy generation and storage. In a desert, for example, extreme temperatures can have a significant impact on energy storage, which must be taken into account. We can learn a lot from each other by comparing these different needs and solutions. »

“Social and climate equity are important to consider,” Forino said. “Different infrastructures may need to rely on carbon-emitting fuels for economic or political reasons. Some countries have doubled their coal production to stimulate the economy due to the effects of the pandemic. Even when we focus locally, we need to think globally. Although we, as a planet, have the same problems and the same goals, we do not have a path to get there. We need a fair and unified approach.

Clean energy wasn’t the only big issue discussed, however. To meet these challenges head-on, society must build a diverse scientific community that can work together and benefit from unique perspectives.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion in physics still has a long way to go,” Denton explained, “and it’s certainly an issue internationally. It was nice to see the solidarity between winners and leaders recognizing this problem and trying to find ways to fix it. People at all levels of education must take responsibility for fixing this leaky pipeline, where people are giving up the field. High schools, universities and national laboratories must act.

Constructive takeaways

Meeting leaders and representatives from organizations of varying sizes, orientations, and structures provides insight into what the lab does well and highlights opportunities for improvement.

“A conference of this magnitude focuses on how we as researchers communicate,” Denton noted. “People in the same field tend to speak the same language. We can get into the high-level details immediately. I realized that I took this kind of peer-to-peer communication for granted. This conference hosted a larger group of people than I am used to interacting with in my day-to-day professional life, which made the gaps in communication much more apparent. Communication is something that we can really improve here at the Lab, whether at the interdepartmental level, with partners outside the Lab or with the public.

“This experience has shown me that reaching certain levels in your career provides you with the opportunity to influence and shape the way your business, organization or department operates,” Magrum said. “Many of those present at the conference expressed their ability to effect positive change, support collaboration, and recognize and promote the ideas of young professionals as they excel in their careers.”

Seeing where Brookhaven Lab sits on this larger scale has been encouraging and has created a sense of community. To achieve the ambitious goals this forum has identified, connections like this are invaluable.

“It was great to know that we have a place on the site,” Forino said. “It is important for us to participate as a DOE laboratory. Much of the work we do here in climate science and related initiatives has been part of the conversation and is consistent with what the world is doing. We should feel good about that. It’s really a collective approach to having that impact, so even though some of the smaller pieces of science may not seem like huge breakthroughs, it makes a big difference to work collectively.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the largest supporter of basic physical science research in the United States and works to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

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