Adria Wilson is a technology manager in the Fuel Cells Technologies Office, a position she’s held for more than a year, initially joining as an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education fellow. In this role, she concentrates on research and development that addresses critical barriers associated with fuel cells, such as technology cost and durability. For Wilson, science is an art and connecting people with different backgrounds and perspectives to achieve progress is key.
Q. Tell me a little about the work you do?
A. Being a part of my technology office makes me proud to work here because I get to see the stuff that people are doing at the national labs every day…basically witnessing the really cool work that is pushing the envelope and defining the cutting edge in clean energy technology. It’s a really exciting time for fuel cells right now, with the first commercial fuel cell cars on the road, ready for people to drive. At this moment in history, the hydrogen and fuel cells industry is at its tipping point and it’s really wonderful to see how our work has brought us here and is continuing to influence change.
Q. What have you seen when it comes to education for scientists?
A. As a scientist myself, I understand there’s not a lot of business schooling provided to scientists during their academic training. Some are just not interested in entrepreneurship or the tech transfer process, but many don’t realize how relevant this knowledge is to their profession, or, more broadly, how it could inform their work in a positive way. Another gap in learning exists in understanding how manufacturing works. All of these different complementary components, when lab researchers don’t know about them, they form this barrier to any of that technology making it from the benchtop to the marketplace. I think investing in tech-to-market initiatives that target both staff scientists and students at the labs is a critical step our office can take to make sure it maximizes the benefit it brings to all communities, especially focusing on students, who will be the next generation workforce... it all comes back down to education.
Q. What advice do you have people just starting out?
A. I think that realizing that failures only serve to get you closer to the truth is important. Also, I would say that it is super important to realize science doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Get to know the world outside of science, and let it inform what you do in your career.
Q. What can more young women do today to break into the science arena?
A. For young women that are studying science and are looking to make an impact with their careers, I think it comes down to having a question or an issue you care deeply about, and finding a way to use scientific research to get at a solution. If you’re driven by passion for something, you won’t lose your forward momentum easily. The other part of that is to realize that scientific research is about failing without being hard on yourself, learning from it as quickly as possible, and moving on.
Q. Did you always want to be a scientist?
A. No. When I was younger, I wanted to be an artist – I wanted to work as an animator for Disney Studios. My mom told me that I could be an artist second, but that I should use my smarts to do something that helps to change the world first. Agree with that characterization of art or not, I listened to her, and I found, actually, that the world of science is like living, breathing art. You need the same mental creativity to envision what’s going on with molecules at a scale smaller than you can see with your eyes, and when you channel that vision into science, you can make an outstanding impact on the world around you. And for me, my mom’s suggestion worked out. I still paint and sketch, and I use what I’ve learned about science and nature as inspiration.