Dr. Emma White is an associate scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. She performs research in powder metallurgy with an emphasis on materials for additive manufacturing and energy applications, including high pressure gas atomization powder processing, advanced lithium ion batteries, high energy density non-rare earth magnets and high temperature materials for extreme environments. Dr. White graduated from Iowa State University with a B.S. (2009) and Ph.D. (2014) in Materials Science & Engineering. From 2014-2016, she was a post-doctoral associate and then continued on as a staff member at Ames Laboratory. She has been the lead investigator on over $8.5M in research funding and co-investigator on $6M of research projects (U.S. DOE programs and industrial partnership programs). Dr. White has 3 patents, 1 book chapter, and has delivered invited presentations to both domestic and international audiences. She received the 2016 Excellence in Metallography Award from APMI International and the 2017 Excellence in Technology Transfer from the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer, Mid-Continent Region. Dr. White recently represented Ames Lab at the Basic Research Needs in Transformative Manufacturing Workshop hosted by the U.S. DOE Office of Science.
What inspired you to work in STEM?
I love math and science and recognized that at a young age. I appreciated the concept of being able to follow a simple set of rules and get the right answer – although I know now it’s usually a bit more complicated than that in real life. Both of my grandfathers were engineers and gave me early exposure to an engineering mindset. I was fortunate to be in a school system with advanced opportunities in math and science and with teachers who encouraged me to learn all I could. My favorite subject in high school was chemistry – I was intrigued to see things with my eyes that were caused by reactions at the atomic level. I was also excited by the idea of being able to discover something brand new that could have a wide-ranging impact in how we live. A STEM career was the perfect way to combine my adventurous spirit, logical mind and passion for changing the world.
What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?
I love working for the U.S. Department of Energy because I’m solving global issues in my daily work. I get to think and come up with new ideas that impact energy technologies – from an electric vehicle that can drive further, to a wind turbine that will last longer, to a jet turbine engine that can operate more efficiently. All this happens by getting to do hands-on tasks in the lab and experiments, as well as managing people and projects at a higher level. The variety of my day is motivating and is never boring. I get to see innovations that I developed used in industries to improve all of our lives.
How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
To engage more underrepresented groups, we need to continue to keep challenging stereotypes and directly encourage those groups to increase their confidence. One meeting with visitors to our laboratory, as we were getting started I could tell by the questions they asked me that these visitors thought I was in an administrative role, rather than a scientific one. My boss stepped in and introduced me as I sat down to give the presentation for the meeting. That little boost and seeing the surprise on their faces was the confidence I needed to deliver the technical content smoothly. I hope that the next time that group won’t stereotype roles based on gender or ethnicity. This one small step forward is just as important as the bigger ones towards changing the diversity in STEM. I try to motivate and encourage the other female students by giving them support and advice based on my experiences.
Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
Speak up. Let everyone know what you want to do and why you are excited about it. Your passion and perseverance will permeate and make you unstoppable. Don’t silo your skills. Many opportunities have opened up to me, not because I’m technically the strongest or smartest, but because I have some of the softer skills like creativity, organization and communication. Stay grounded in life outside of work. Your life is more than your work and that will keep your perspective balanced when things get hard. Keep learning and pushing yourself. Don’t ever let anyone else tell you what you are capable of, you are the only one who knows what you can accomplish. I had one professor during graduate school tell me he didn’t think I would finish. A different professor told me he didn’t know how I finished his class with an A based on how I started the semester. It took a lot of hard work, but I decided they didn’t know me and couldn’t judge what I could accomplish. Remember, you are the only one who determines what you can accomplish. Lastly, materials engineering is the best field because you get to burn, melt, make and break things for a living!
When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
A few years ago, I made a resolution to pick up at least one new hobby each year to help me to keep expanding my horizons and learning more things. If I like the hobby, I keep it and if I don’t, it goes away. This year I started sewing and doing ant hill castings (look up YouTube videos of this if you’re unfamiliar!). I am passionate about adventure and traveling new places – honestly, I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie (think skydiving, rock climbing, triathlons, and glacier hiking). Some of my other favorite hobbies right now are home renovation, snowboarding and raising my dog.
Learn more about our programs & resources for women and girls in STEM at http://www.energy.gov/women