Olga Ovchinnikova's primary research interests include developing new research approaches to surface analysis using mass spectrometry that would allow the mapping of chemicals on surfaces in situ and in real environments.
1) What inspired you to work in STEM?
My father is a theoretical atomic physicist and, growing up, I always found that he really enjoyed what he did and could talk very passionately about his work. His passion for science and his ability to explain the world around me motivated my decision to major in physics as an undergraduate. It was not until my first research experience as a summer student working at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory – through a DOE undergraduate summer fellowship program – that I realized I wanted to become a research scientist. While working as an undergraduate at the Advanced Light Source at Berkeley, I had the opportunity to interact with scientists from very diverse backgrounds – biology, chemistry, physics, and materials science – all in one facility. That summer, I realized the benefit of working in a science-rich environment, where many people from different disciplines come together to answer important science questions.
Olga attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, earning a bachelor of science degree in physics, and a master's and Ph.D in chemical physics.
2) What excites you about your work at the Department of Energy?
I work at the intersection of chemistry, materials, and physics; therefore, I have the opportunity to see science problems from very different perspectives. This approach really challenges me to look for atypical solutions that are out of the box. Being able to look at a problem from completely different angles is key to finding innovative solutions for energy problems.
Olga's research goals are aimed at developing and implementing micron to nanometer-scale measurements of chemical, physical, and temporal processes in materials. Ideally, structural information obtained from mass spectrometry chemical imaging can be synergistically combined with other spectroscopic data, providing a direct correlation between chemical composition and material functionality. One particular example is the development of a multimodal imaging platform that incorporates atomic force microscopy with mass spectrometry for high spatial resolution chemical and mechanical mapping.
3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
It is important to demonstrate to girls that you can achieve a successful career in science and have a good work-life balance. It is critical to show that STEM fields are welcoming to female scientists, and women can reach the highest levels of success. Diversity needs to be highlighted as a vital component of a successful science program.
4) Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
Science is not just a career; it is a passion. Every day I have the opportunity to see or do something that no one else has. It is an extremely rewarding career, where I get to constantly learn. Think of a science education as an opportunity to explore and grow your passion. Also, use those moments of eureka and discovery to drive yourself forward. They are valuable. There will be times when you think you do not or cannot know enough to become a scientist. Just remember, we are all constantly learning, struggling, and striving. This is what it takes to make new discoveries!
5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my husband and two kids, especially biking and running together on the weekends. We are avid runners and participate in a couple road races every year.