Peg Folta is responsible for a 100-person workforce with an expertise in applying the latest computing technologies to plan, configure, control and analyze a broad variety of experiments at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the largest and most energetic laser in the world.
Peg Folta is responsible for a 100-person workforce with an expertise in applying the latest computing technologies to plan, configure, control and analyze a broad variety of experiments at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the largest and most energetic laser in the world. She leads the development of a the strategy to guide users in efficiently executing experiments at the NIF in support of its missions in Energy, Stockpile Stewardship, and Astrophysics. Peg returned to LLNL’s world-renowned Laser Program five years ago, after starting her LLNL career there in 1988. She branched out mid-career to hold a number of LLNL senior management positions, on site and at the Joint Genome Institute, where she played a key role in Computational Biology and Bioinformatics program development and execution. Shortly after graduating with her Masters in Applied Mathematics from the University of Missouri, Peg computerized the National Atmospheric Deposition Program, which continues today to monitor the effects of atmospheric chemical deposition across the nation. Peg has had key roles in international conference management, most recently as the ICALEPCS 2013 Science Program Chair, and previously as the SC09 Biocomputing Thrust Area Chair.
1) What inspired you to work in STEM?
While in high school, I realized that I had a unique talent in mathematics that few others processed. What I found “fun” and came easy was threatening for others. I decided to leverage this uniqueness and majored in mathematics in college. During both my undergrad and graduate work, I exposed myself to a variety of scientific domains that had potential to impact the world. The combination of spending a lifetime doing what I excelled at in a variety of domains with a potential of having an impact on a grand scale was thrilling. It is what kept me in STEM and brought me to the national lab.
2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?
It is the 1-2-3 punch: having the chance to work on problems of national and the world-wide impact; working alongside fascinating, high caliber people; and contributing to humanity, as opposed to a company’s bottom line.
3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
I have two daughters who my husband and I exposed to STEM constantly during their childhood. We expressed our own pleasure at working within these fields and encouraged and praise their experiences in these areas. I think exposure and encouragement is key, and the earlier in life you can connect the better. I would also like to see more outreach into the schools at a younger age and more college-level scholarships in STEM, as it would provide a safety net post graduation.
4) Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
While honing your technical skills (e.g. computer science, math), also investigate associated fields where the application of these skills would benefit. Many challenges in the world require a mixed domain understanding. If not dual degrees, seek a minor in a field that holds interest for you.
5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
This is an excellent question, as everyone must strive for a healthy work-life balance and it is often overlooked. I maintain an active exercise program of cross training, spin, and Zumba. I also love hiking and biking. This helps offset my love of fine dining. My husband and I hold season passes at a local repertory theater, and we heavily leverage our local live performance theater for music and other forms of entertainment. We also love to travel and have recently been to the Greek Islands, and sailed around Tahiti and the Whitsunday Island near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Family has always been apriority with me. My girls are away at college now, so we work hard to find the time to spend with them.