NREL Scientist Melissa Gish Named a Trailblazer by the American Chemical Society

ACS Trailblazers List Celebrates LGBTQIA+ Chemists

April 21, 2022 | By Susannah Shoemaker | Contact media relations

Melissa Gish
NREL Staff Scientist Melissa Gish. Photo by Werner Slocum, NREL

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Scientist Melissa Gish has been selected as a member of the American Chemical Society's Trailblazers list—a prestigious recognition that is presented annually in the American Chemical Society's news magazine, Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN). This year, the list celebrates the contributions of LGBTQIA+ chemists, giving visibility and voice to this marginalized population.

The Trailblazers feature highlights not only Melissa's research contributions, but also the work she has done to foster the LGBTQIA+ community at NREL. Melissa is a co-founder of the Full Spectrum Network, an employee resource group for LGBTQIA+ staff. Since its inception in 2019, the Full Spectrum Network has brought NREL to (virtual) Pride events and has built a strong sense of community among LGBTQIA+ staff at the laboratory.

"The most exciting part is to be recognized for the work I've done with the Full Spectrum Network and NREL's participation in Colorado's Pride events," Melissa said. "I've watched Full Spectrum grow from an idea into a full-fledged community of people, and it's an honor to be recognized for my part in that."

Melissa joined NREL in 2018 as a postdoctoral researcher and has since been promoted to staff scientist. Her research focuses on using ultrafast spectroscopy to study charge- and energy-transfer processes for renewable energy applications. Recently, she has begun applying her expertise in spectroscopy to work with new systems, such as organic lanthanide complexes.

In the feature, she describes her journey to becoming an ultrafast spectroscopist.

"Going into grad school, I knew that I wanted to do experimental physical chemistry, which led me to [John] Papanikolas' group at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill," she said. "In my graduate research, I learned how to build all different types of optical setups and developed my expertise through really being engaged in that type of fundamental renewable energy research. That engagement is what kept me working in renewable energy and led me to apply for a postdoc at NREL."

In addition to a passion for research, Melissa highlights the importance of having role models in the scientific community.

"Having role models is so important," she said. "There's a lot of scary legislation right now, and that can lead to folks not feeling totally comfortable being themselves at work. The Full Spectrum Network has provided a safe space for people to be themselves. For me, having that community and seeing myself in that community is really important."

In addition to highlighting the work of Melissa and other scientists, this year's Trailblazers issue sheds light on the significant challenges and obstacles faced by the LGBTQIA+ community. The issue notes that nearly half of LGBTQ+ employees are not "out" at work, creating a psychological burden that can impact productivity.

"It might feel like we've made a lot of progress, but there are still LGBTQIA+ people at work who may not feel comfortable being themselves or talking about their partners at work," Melissa said. "As a manager, PI, or peer, it's important to recognize that you may have to go out of your way to make everyone feel welcome."

Melissa's promotion to staff scientist has left her busier than ever, but she is still excited about what is to come for the Full Spectrum Network.

"We are hopefully going to march in the parade this year in person," she said. "We're excited to get back to in-person events, like lunches, and continuing to build that community and bring in all of the new folks who may not know about Full Spectrum."

In the meantime, Melissa has developed a simple solution to make sure everyone feels welcome in her own office.

"Personally, I like to keep a pride flag and stickers at my desk," she said. "Having those symbols indicates that this is a safe space to be yourself."

For more information about the Full Spectrum Network and NREL's other employee resource groups, visit the Employee Resource Groups webpage.