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Women @ Energy: Linda Gaines

June 5, 2014 - 11:52am


Argonne Systems Analyst Linda Gaines solves problems related to the efficient use of resources.

Argonne Systems Analyst Linda Gaines solves problems related to the efficient use of resources.

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Linda L. Gaines is a Systems Analyst at Argonne National Laboratory’s Center for Transportation Research. Her primary interest is solving problems related to the efficient use of resources. She began her 35-plus years at Argonne by writing a series of handbooks on energy and material flows in petroleum refining, organic chemicals, and copper industries that provided the background for studies of technical and institutional issues involved in recycling discarded tires, packaging, and other energy-intensive materials. Gaines has examined the costs and impacts of the production and recycling of advanced-design automobiles, trucks, and trains, and of batteries on energy use and the environment. She has also examined the potential growth of electricity demand by industry, and performed technical and economic analysis of alternative fuels, including hydrogen and biofuels. Her most recent work has involved studying ways to reduce petroleum use and other impacts from transportation by recycling batteries and reducing vehicle idling. She holds a B.A. degree in chemistry and physics from Harvard University, and a Ph.D. in physics from Columbia University.

1) What inspired you to work in STEM?

When I was in elementary school, I rejected my mother’s idea of teaching, realizing that I wanted to contribute new knowledge rather than recycling existing information. Then in 10th grade, I was fascinated by the way the periodic table fit together logically, and I decided to major in chemistry. During my junior year in college, the chemistry course had lots of calculations and conflicted with the string quartet course I wanted to take, so I took physics instead (theoretical and elegant). In graduate school, working in a lab was fun, but nobody really cared about spin-spin interaction constants. Then I got married and we needed two jobs in one location. A professor I visited only had funding to do applied research. A chart on his wall about auto recycling caught my eye. He hired me to compare the impacts of coal and nuclear power.

2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?

My work is like assembling a complicated puzzle with missing and extraneous pieces; I enjoy matching finite resources with their most appropriate and efficient uses via scientific analysis. Currently, I’m trying to make sure that batteries from electric and hybrid vehicles remain as valuable a resource as possible and do not become a troublesome waste — requiring the use of yet more resources — at the end of the vehicles’ lives. Not all recycling processes are equally beneficial — the closer you recover to a finished product, in general, the more energy is saved and emissions are reduced, and the more economical the process can be.

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

This is a really hard question for me, because I really don’t see what gender or race has to do with it. Everyone should be encouraged to pursue whatever interests them.

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

Don’t succumb to Superwoman syndrome: You can’t do everything perfectly! There are only 24 hours in a day; don’t buy into the macho work week. Identify tasks that you can ignore, skimp on, really want to do right, delegate — then DO IT! Make sure your partner is a partner. Be efficient and take time for yourself.

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

I am married to a high-energy physicist at Fermilab. We have two grown daughters, two grandchildren, and a cat. I sing in three choirs, swim on a team (occasionally racing in meets), attend the symphony and the opera, and interview prospective students for Harvard.