Written By: Tanushi Sahai
WD&E Communications Student Assistant
Dr. Xinlian Liu is a returning visiting faculty member here at Berkeley Lab. He graduated from Louisiana State University with a Ph.D. in Computer Science and went on to Argonne National Laboratory to become a postdoctoral researcher. Since the beginning of his career, Dr. Liu has worked to promote interdisciplinary collaboration between computing sciences and emerging research areas. Now an associate professor at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, he believes it’s even more important for students to learn outside their chosen field in the digital era. “One problem of the current student education is they’re only focused on their own domain, which limits their vision.”
His new innovative approach to connecting Computer Science and Humanities is a set of two paired-courses offered to graduate students in the humanities and computer science programs. Each course stands on its own feet in the corresponding disciplines while the professors synchronize their instruction. The students from each side work in pairs to complete a semester-long project in which a computing solution is applied to a humanities problem. CS students acquire skills of effective communication with domain experts and humanities students get to know the power and limit of modern technology. This work is described in a paper in Springer’s Lecture Notes in Computer Science and was presented at the 19th International Conference on Computational Science (ICCS 2019) in Faro, Portugal.
Dr. Liu cherishes the opportunity to come to Berkeley each summer through the Department of Energy Visiting Faculty Program, because he believes the experience of working with other faculty and lab scientists enables him to think outside the box. He appreciates being able to talk to people of different backgrounds and get their opinions to take back to his home university. “Nothing but wonderful.” The Workforce Development and Education program allows Dr. Liu and many other faculty from all over the US to come to Berkeley Lab and spend ten intensive and energetic weeks working on cutting edge scientific challenges that align with the missions of the Department of Energy.
What’s next for Dr. Liu? Dr. Liu hopes to have the model duplicated at other colleges and universities. Additionally, he actively encourages all students to take at least one computing-themed course, regardless of their specific field of study. “It alerts students to other options.” He believes every student should have the opportunity to explore computer science and coding in order to get a rounded education. What’s next for his future at Berkeley Lab? “I love it and I hope to be back next summer.” For more information on the Visiting Faculty Program at Berkeley Lab, go here.
The work of 105 interns who spent the summer participating in the Berkeley Lab internship programs will be on display during a poster session from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on the ALS Patio on Wednesday, Aug. 7. The interns, who were hosted by Workforce Development & Education, worked with world-class scientists and engineers on projects related to the Lab’s cutting-edge research programs.
by Priyanka Runwal
Growing up in Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa, Tadewos Getachew witnessed firsthand the lack of access to clean drinking water. He closely watched the city grapple with infrastructure challenges related to treating waste water or fixing leakages in the water distribution system.
Getachew realized that he wanted to develop engineering solutions. “I wanted to build a career that would help solve water problems,” he said, “be they in Ethiopia or any other developing county.”
Armed with an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering from UC Davis, and more recently a prestigious GEM fellowship, Getachew will pursue graduate studies in environmental engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor this fall. The GEM fellowship allows underrepresented students like Getachew to pursue graduate education in science and engineering. As part of this fellowship program, he is now interning with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s (Berkeley Lab) Energy Geosciences Division and learning to estimate groundwater withdrawals for California’s drought-parched Central Valley.
Getachew sees parallels between climate change-related issues that California faces and countries like Ethiopia where droughts are becoming more common.
During low rainfall years, when water levels in streams and rivers plummet, farmers’ reliance on groundwater spikes. “But the main problem is that we don’t know how much groundwater there is,” said Bhavna Arora, Getachew’s supervisor and a research scientist within the Energy Geosciences Division at Berkeley Lab. Getachew’s work could inform managers about underground water levels and help them implement the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
Arora was impressed with Getachew’s desire and passion for problem-solving. In his previous research at UC Davis’ Center for Water-Energy Efficiency, Getachew worked on an innovative approach to assess groundwater withdrawals in California. In agricultural areas like the Central Valley where such detailed extraction data are largely lacking, he worked with scientists to estimate water withdrawal by using PG&E’s energy usage bills instead.
“With a GEM fellow like Tadeows, there was already a visible passion for figuring out solutions to water problems,” Arora said. “He also knew the problems in regions like the Central Valley, which made him a good fit for our project.”
Now into his fifth week at Berkeley Lab, Getachew has been combing through Butte County’s groundwater reports, using remote-sensing techniques to assess crop cover and evaporation from leaf and soil surfaces as well as long-term climate, and acquiring advanced computational skills in machine learning to assess ground water levels in the region. He has also been spending time connecting with other scientists and interns that study various aspects of climate change.
“I want to continue doing research in the future, especially in developing countries,” Getachew said. “This experience (at Berkeley Lab) will be very valuable as I establish my career.”
As a first generation African American and part of the U.S. community of low-income students, Getachew has overcome his share of hardships — from being the only African American at his community college’s higher math courses to lacking exposure to scientific research in his primary school years.
But as a transfer student at UC Davis he took advantage of diverse research opportunities, presented at conferences, and even played an active role in the National Society of Black Engineers’ on-campus chapter. Securing the highly competitive GEM Fellowship lets underrepresented students like Getachew to pursue graduate education. At the same time, it allows institutions like Berkeley Lab to pursue water-related research with diverse perspectives.
Written By: Tanushi Sahai
WD&E Communications Student Assistant
Brennon Marcano, Chief Executive Officer of the National GEM Consortium, and Dr. Marcus Huggans, Executive Director of Client Relations, visited the three GEM fellows at Berkeley Lab this summer, Ileana Callejas, Tadewos Getachew, and Viviana Vela, on Monday, July 15th. Brennon and Marcus perform annual site visits to each of their GEM fellows placed in various employers across the nation. Upon asking Brennon how he handles travelling all over the country nonstop, he replied, “Seeing the fellows is what makes it worth it.”
Ileana is working with Dr. Eoin Brodie, Senior Scientist, analyzing microbial metagenomes through field measurements of gas flux and nutrient transformations. Ileana recently completed her M.S in Civil Engineering and is going on to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Tadewos is working with geochemist Bhavna Arora to develop a hydrological model to estimate groundwater pumping in Central Valley, California. He is applying machine learning techniques to provide a computationally affordable and simple alternative to physically based models. Tadewos attended the University of California, Davis and graduated with a B.S in Civil Engineering and will be going on to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor to pursue a Master’s in Environmental Engineering. He aspires to earn a Ph.D.
Viviana is working with Dr.Hang Deng, Research Scientist, to study the coupling of Micro-Reactions and Micro-Mechanics. She is focusing on its’ impact on unconventional oil and gas production. Viviana attended the University of California, San Diego where she graduated with a B.S in Structural Engineering, moved on to receive her M.S in Civil Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The GEM fellowship program supports underrepresented minority groups pursuing a Master’s and/or Doctoral degree by providing financial support and access to research opportunities to help them through their academic pursuits. The GEM National Consortium was founded over 40 years ago and has built a vast network of fellows, employers, and mentors all working towards providing solid talent and addressing the diversity deficit in the workplace. Each year, around 2,000 applications come in and 1,000 fellows get chosen. Unfortunately, less than 50% of GEM fellows get placed in an internship. The problem? A shortage in mentors. Dr. Bill Collins, Director of the Climate & Ecosystems Sciences Division, is a big advocate for the GEM program. Dr. Collins believes the lack of mentors comes from a lack of familiarity, “They don’t know what the GEM interns can deliver just yet.” All GEM fellows have come back with nothing less than raving reviews from their mentors. In fact, in Dr. Collins’ Division, Dr. Collins has noted that, “mentors get competitive for GEM interns.”
The GEM program is an excellent resource not only for minority students looking to get extra support, but also for researchers and PI’s who will have access to a vetted talent pool full of the best and brightest. Bhavna and Hang, mentors from Dr. Collins’ division, participated in the judging process for this year’s GEM applicants. Bhavna recalls that, “the judging was pretty intensive… everyone had the strongest desire to succeed.” Both mentors noted the determination and passion that came across from each intern. So Dr. Collins’ last piece of advice? “Run, don’t walk to get a GEM intern.”
To learn more about the GEM program, visit https://education.lbl.gov/internships/gem/. Berkeley Lab has been a member of the national GEM consortium since 2017 and the Workforce Development and Education department has worked tirelessly to create opportunities for the fellows ever since. With the help of Horst Simon, who has been a champion for the GEM program, seeing it as a way to develop a diverse workforce at the Lab far beyond the confines of an internship, Workforce Development and Education hopes to expand the program to increase the reach and impact. GEM fellows are vetted, talented, Native American, African-American, and Latinx students that will change the future STEM workforce. If you’re interested in judging this year’s GEM applicants on Nov 20th to the 22nd or for any questions, email Colette Flood: [email protected]
Summer interns and mentors recently gathered to socialize and celebrate their accomplishments over the last month. Sponsored by Workforce Development & Education, the interns work alongside Lab scientists on research projects, culminating in a poster session in August.
Since 1994, employees have brought their kids or other youngsters to the Lab as part of the national “Daughters and Sons to Work” program.
This year, 150 kids participated in numerous activities, including job shadowing, getting photographed as the “next Nobel Laureate,” creating a science biography, role playing as a STEM professional at the Lab, facility tours, a “science for social good” workshop, and career networking.
The event also included a new “Energy Innovation Gallery,” an interactive exhibit filled with energy technologies, diagnostic tools, and inventions used or produced at Berkeley Lab.
“Daughters & Sons to Work” was once again a huge success thanks to the effort of the Lab’s Workforce Development and Education program and nearly 100 volunteers. See more >