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Women @ Energy: Alice Koniges

May 27, 2014 - 3:23pm

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Alice Koniges joined the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in 2009, as a researcher on issues including programming models for multicore architectures, benchmarking and performance optimization of application codes, development of Adaptive Mesh Refinement and Arbitrary Lagrangian Eulerian algorithms for time-dependent PDE's, and application supercomputing in plasma physics, laser physics, and other areas of energy research.

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Alice Koniges joined the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in 2009, as a researcher on issues including programming models for multicore architectures, benchmarking and performance optimization of application codes, development of Adaptive Mesh Refinement and Arbitrary Lagrangian Eulerian algorithms for time-dependent PDE's, and application supercomputing in plasma physics, laser physics, and other areas of energy research.  Soon after she became the first woman ever to earn a PhD in Applied and Computational Mathematics at Princeton University, Alice Koniges began her career as a member of National Magnetic Fusion Energy Computing Center in 1984 at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). She began her career researching parallel computing and plasma physics for the Department of Energy, focusing on the combination of these two fields. In addition to her PhD she also holds MSE and MA degrees from Princeton, and a BA from the University of California, San Diego and has published approximately 100 refereed technical papers. 

1) What inspired you to work in STEM?

My high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Gary Hepler encouraged me to expand upon an astronomy science fair project. After school most weekdays, he would drive me to San Diego State University where I worked with an astronomy professor, Dr. Arthur Young, and one of my parents would pick me up in the evenings. Dr. Young and I published my first paper when I was still in high school based on our observations and detection of a binary star. That paper remains one of my most highly cited papers in Google scholar.

2) What excites you about your work?

I am very excited about the way we are able to predict physical phenomena with computer simulations. We are making incredible advances in all fields--physics, biology, medicine, etc. I love to do interesting visualizations that show physical phenomena, and I am really excited when a computer code or other simulation I am working on “really works” and has significant impact both experimentally and predictively. I also really enjoy working with the next generation of scientists and engineers and seeing their progress and innovation.

3) How can our country engage more women, girls and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

The critical numbers game is very important. When a school or an institution reaches a certain number of underrepresented people, more tend to follow. Certain institutes care about these numbers and actively recruit, promote, and even host social events for them. Others do not. We need to continue and encourage this. Even at scientific review panels I have been on, certain groups work hard to have a mix of people, other panels I am quite often the only woman. I also feel that undergraduate education needs to revamp its attitude in many ways. I am tired of hearing the joke given to a large undergraduate class – “look to your left, look to your right,” only one of the three of you will pass this class and stay in this (STEM) major. We need to encourage our young people and give them opportunities to excel even if it means occasional failure.

4) Do you have tips you’d recommend for someone looking to enter your filed of work?

Don’t get discouraged by the bad days, focus on the good ones. All jobs are hard, but having one where you can really master your science and research is most rewarding. And within that area, find what really appeals to you—be it teaching, laboratory experiments, computing. Finally, don’t be afraid to switch it around – do an experiment if you are a theorist, write some code if you are an experimentalist. Give talks, meet people, and get ideas for new and exciting areas.

5) When you have free time what are your hobbies?

I raised three children who are now in their twenties, two girls in STEM and one boy in medical school. Their hobbies were mine for a while—soccer coaching, accompanying Suzuki violin on guitar, and lots of watching them play. Now with more time, I am able to cycle and do occasional sprint triathlons, ride my horse, and play tennis. I also play piccolo for a community pit orchestra.

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