Researcher Julie Bessac Lands DOE Early Career Award After Landing at NREL

Aug. 15, 2023 | By Ernie Tucker | Contact media relations

Computational researcher Julie Bessac, who enjoyed math growing up in France, also has good timing. Less than six months after joining the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in March, she was chosen by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for funding under the DOE Office of Science’s 2023 Early Career Research Program.

Portrait of Julie Bessac

NREL researcher Julie Bessac

Julie will spend half of her time over the next five years on her project titled “Enhanced Fine-Scale Statistical Modeling of Environmental Extreme Events in Complex Systems from Multiple Sources.” DOE announced the awards for 93 early career scientists on Aug. 4.

As she explained, “We are motivated by the drastic impacts of environmental extreme events on human systems or other natural systems.”

Her research project will attempt to correct or in some cases enrich some of the computer models about environmental conditions that derive from classic physics-based models. At times, she said, those classic models may understate the potential for environmental conditions, leaving people unprepared for disasters such as the 2021 Texas power crisis and the recent Hurricane Ian.

Her interest in the computational data field has grown over the years. She grew up in a small village in Brittany, France, and enjoyed mathematics and exploring scientific topics. While pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Rennes, she expanded her studies from pure math to statistics and probabilities. During her Ph.D. research, she applied statistics to climatological data, launching her career.

Although she had not planned on coming to the United States, in 2014 she found a postdoctoral opportunity at Argonne National Laboratory, which blended theoretical and applied research. Her connection to NREL has included other research projects, such as one begun last year with her now Group Manager Kristi Potter.

Julie was looking to find more collaborative opportunities, and Potter and others convinced her NREL was that place. Even though she works remotely form Blacksburg, Virginia, where her husband Johann Rudi teaches computational mathematics, she enjoys “the vibe” of NREL.

Two people smile for a selfie in front of a mountainous landscape.
During a recent visit to NREL, Bessac and her husband made sure to explore the local mountains.

NREL liked her vibe as well.

“I first met Julie while working on a joint grant proposal with Argonne and Ohio State,” Potter said. “I was impressed by her thoughtful approach to problem-solving and collaborative nature, and her contributions to the proposal were fundamental to it getting awarded.” 

Further, Potter was delighted when she mentioned an interest in joining NREL. “Even though she’s only been here a few months, she is already considered a thought leader and a strong asset to the lab. Her early career award demonstrates that her research is not only valuable to NREL but will also have far-reaching implications both within computer science but also across various fields.”

For her part, Julie said that she has already met many people at NREL and hopes to connect with more researchers in the systems resiliency area, using her data to help refine other studies.

“It is critical to advance the understanding and predictability of extremes in order to adapt preparedness and emergency management responses,” she said. 

Although she will not be in Colorado, she and her husband enjoy the same sorts of outdoor activities in the nearby Appalachian Mountains that many NRELians pursue in the Rockies: mountain biking, hiking, and gardening. Still, she feels connected to her new national laboratory.

“I really like it,” she said. “It seems very collaborative.”

Tags: Computational Science,Awards,Staff Profile