Manufacturing Mastermind Series
This series profiles some of NREL's outstanding researchers in advanced manufacturing.
Browse the profiles below, and the Why the World Needs Manufacturing Masterminds summary article, to get an inside look into the lives of advanced manufacturing researchers, learn how they have made an impact at NREL, and get inspired by the exciting projects they are involved in.
Fixing things—such as snowmobiles but also manufacturing processes and global supply chains—happens to be Sam Reese’s specialty. As a senior engineer and analyst at NREL, she puts clean energy in context, analyzing, for example, how to manufacture solar panels without emitting too much carbon. In this Q&A, she shares how she ended up traveling around the world, why it might not be so important to force people to accept the term “climate change,” and how she’s sharing her fix-it mindset with her kids.
Q&A With Andriy Zakutayev: Materials Architect Builds New, Energy-Efficient Devices One Atom at a Time
Growing up in Ukraine, Andriy Zakutayev remembers looking at his family’s first computer and thinking, “How do you make electrons go where they’re supposed to go?” Now, as a materials scientist at NREL, Andriy manufactures materials to find new ways to control electrons, helping them carry electricity through new microchip semiconductors that power computers, solar panels, lightbulbs, smartphones, and other technologies. In this Q&A, he shares how the war impacts his professional life, what it’s like spray-painting atoms, and how materials have memories.
Q&A With Danish Saleem: A “Bottomless Cyber Enthusiast” Works To Secure the U.S. Power Grid Against Hackers
Danish Saleem, a senior energy systems cybersecurity researcher at NREL, wants to help prevent U.S. power outages caused by cyberattacks. For the past 6 years, he has focused on helping manufacturers build security into their devices; establishing cybersecurity certification standards for power generation, transmission, and distribution; and identifying and preventing ways hackers could disrupt distributed energy systems that, like rooftop solar panels, typically power nearby, local consumers. Read the Q&A to learn more about Saleem's work and how he found his way to this role.
If you asked a 10-year-old Mou Paul what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would have said, “A great writer and a great scientist, too.” Today, Paul, a senior staff scientist at NREL, has published more than 40 publications, won several high-profile awards, earned more than 50 patents for her scientific inventions, and written fictional short stories (mostly in her native tongue, Bengali). Paul talks about the visual appeal of chemistry, the many ways her membranes are used, and what haunts her about the future.
After touring landfills, composting facilities, and other waste-processing plants in her native country of India in her early career, Avantika Singh is now helping combat waste. As an expert in market analysis and sustainable materials, she works with research teams to design new, cost-effective ways to manufacture and recycle plastics so they don’t keep piling up in landfills. In this interview, Singh shares her twisty path to plastics, how her mother’s green thumb inspired her commitment to sustainable living, and her ideal world and advice.
Growing up in Canada, Robynne Murray literally got her hands dirty clam digging in the Bay of Fundy. Today, if Murray’s not grappling with a crag of rock or ice as a climber, hiker, and skier, the mechanical engineer is probably getting her hands dirty in her NREL lab, grappling with molds and resins, manufacturing and evaluating new materials for wind and tidal turbines and electric vehicles. In this interview, Murray talks about her latest outdoor adventures, building plastics from sugars instead of the traditional fossil fuels, being “a bit of a rebel” in high school, and the award-winning thermoplastic resin she and her team concocted that can be used to build recyclable wind turbine blades.
Even as a child, Nicholas Rorrer ran experiments, testing soap effectivity on shirt stains. Now a senior researcher at NREL, he studies how to clean up plastics (or rather the polymers that make up plastics). So far, he and his colleagues accidentally designed a microbial enzyme that eats polymers and are inventing ways to manufacture polymers with biobased (or plant-based) materials, such as corn, and upcycle reclaimed polymers into superior plastics. Learn why he loves polymers as well as Legos, yoga, RuPaul’s drag races, and saving the world.
Growing up in India, Parthiv Kurup saw regular blackouts that lasted days. After that, he decided to join the energy sector—and change it. Although he started in natural gas, he switched to renewables when he realized their future economic value would surpass fossil fuels. Now, as a cost and systems analyst, Kurup studies the economic viability of renewable technologies and helps streamline manufacturing processes to reduce energy consumption and costs.
Much to the annoyance of her physicist father, Meredith Doyle chose to study chemistry. She chose that field, in part, to follow her own path but also because chemistry builds everything in the world. And more than anything, Doyle wants to change the world as quickly as humanly possible. It is not surprising, then, that she is working on one of the biggest, most urgent global challenges—one that has infiltrated landfills, oceans, rain water, and fish worldwide: plastics waste.
Q&A With Alberta ("Birdie") Carpenter: How To Untangle Carbon From the Vast Web of Manufacturing and Supply Chains
Birdie Carpenter was born in Guam and grew up in Saipan, Taiwan, Liberia, Sudan, Pakistan, and Somalia. After getting a degree in engineering and joining the U.S. Navy, she went back home to Saipan for a job in waste management. That's when she realized she belonged in environmental engineering. Now, she analyzes if the benefits to early-stage technologies outweigh the negative impacts to the supply chain.
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