Coffee with 2020 SLAM Finalists

Leticia Arnedo-Sanchez

As our most famous science SLAM is approaching, we had a virtual coffee with this year finalists to learn about them, their motivations to participate, and their most secret talents. We are all looking forward to seeing you rocking the stage!

Yang Ha – Advanced Light Source

What is your project at Berkeley Lab about?
I use the soft X-ray facility at the ALS to understand the reactions in batteries

Why did you decide to participate in the SLAM competition?
I would love to practice my skills in sharing my research findings with a broader audience, which is very important for a scientist.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would your dream job be?
A medical doctor

Tell us about your hobbies!
Swimming and hiking

What is your secret talent?
I could cook pretty well, because to me, cooking is like carrying out some experiments with well established procedures, and the outcome is even more enjoyable 🙂

Final remarks!
I am a GS Warriors fan, and enjoy watching them playing unselfish basketball. I love the novel The Three Body Problem which makes me think deeper about human beings.

Dariia Vyshenska – Joint Genome Institute

What is your project at Berkeley Lab about?
I am developing a scalable framework for the analysis of DNA stable isotope probing metagenomics data, allowing culture-independent identification of microbial populations performing specific metabolic functions.

Why did you decide to participate in the SLAM competition?
I believe that one of the critical functions of a scientist is to communicate their research to the public. I do it because it is my duty and because I love it!

If you weren’t a scientist, what would your dream job be?
Animal behavior specialist & dog trainer

Tell us about your hobbies!
My #1 hobby is animal behavior. Dogs occupy a special place in my heart. I also love (indoor) gardening, drawing, reading, and scuba diving.

What is your secret talent?
Drawing

Final remarks!
I’m always open to making new friends. Whoever you are, if you feel like you would like to get in touch with me, feel free to contact me via email or on LinkedIn!

Ligia Diana Pinto de Almeida Amorim – Accelerator Technology and Applied Physics Division

What is your project at Berkeley Lab about?
I am trying to understand, using computer simulations, how the plasma state of matter interacts with lasers and extremely fast tiny particles to boost them and collide them, unveiling the mysteries around the origin of our universe.

Why did you decide to participate in the SLAM competition?
I find it really exciting to talk about the science I work on with everyone. I decided to apply to the SLAM to keep practicing and learning how to do it in ways that are most interesting and fun for the audience!

If you weren’t a scientist, what would your dream job be?
Kindergarden teacher

Tell us about your hobbies!
Synchronized swimming

What is your secret talent?
Maybe… I can usually sustain a long positive conversation with anyone

Final remarks!
Thank you for the SLAM! It was really amazing last year and I am loving to take part in it 🙂

Jonelle Basso – Joint Genome Institute

What is your project at Berkeley Lab about?
I am currently researching the interactions between plants and microbes and am working to optimize plant root colonization by microbiota of interest.

Why did you decide to participate in the SLAM competition?
I had seen a friend participate in a SLAM competition once, and thought that participating in one would help my public speaking skills. I was a bit shy about participating in this SLAM, but I was encouraged by a current BLPA board member, who participated in a previous year, and decided to give it a go!

If you weren’t a scientist, what would your dream job be?
A graphic designer

Tell us about your hobbies!
I really enjoy crafting/card making. When I get the chance, I also write poetry.

What is your secret talent?
So…super-secret talent…I’d practiced martial arts for several years and hold a black belt in Sho to kan karate.

Khalid Siddiqui – Materials Sciences Division

What is your project at Berkeley Lab about?
I use ultrashort lasers and electron beams (durations on the order of tens of millionth of a billionth of a second) to study how fundamental interactions occur inside materials.

Why did you decide to participate in the SLAM competition?
I had done SLAMS before though never for a competition and enjoyed them a lot. I really like the challenge to simplify complicated scientific concepts into easy and relatable examples and anecdotes. That, and the chance to network with other fantastic postdocs at LBL was why I wanted to participate in the SLAM.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would your dream job be?
It’s a toss-up between a farmer or a crime-fiction writer

Tell us about your hobbies!
Mad football (soccer) fan so watch that a lot, play the guitar and read books

What is your secret talent?
I am a crime fiction writer in the making. I started writing crime fiction when I was an undergraduate. It never got finished due to my research commitments, but I plan to conclude it soon.

Revathi Jambunathan – Computational Research Division

What is your project at Berkeley Lab about?
I am developing a computational electrodynamic solver for modeling plasma-based accelerators, astro-plasma processes, and microelectronic devices.

Why did you decide to participate in the SLAM competition?
SLAM is a great opportunity to present my work to a larger audience and a lot of fun as I get to interact with a diverse group of people!

If you weren’t a scientist, what would your dream job be?
Astronaut!

Tell us about your hobbies!
Bharathanatyam (Indian classical dance), reading, and recently — gardening

What is your secret talent?
This is not a talent — but I love solving different types of rubik’s cubes!

Shwetha Acharya – Joint Genome Institute

What is your project at Berkeley Lab about?
My project deals with treating wastewater from hydraulic fracturing using microbes in order to promote reuse.

Why did you decide to participate in the SLAM competition?
To promote my research and improve my communication skills

If you weren’t a scientist, what would your dream job be?
Veterinarian

Tell us about your hobbies!
Gardening, hiking and painting

What is your secret talent?
I cook amazing Indian food!

Jennifer Pore – Nuclear Science Division

What is your project at Berkeley Lab about?
My research looks at the fundamental behavior of the heaviest elements on the periodic table. We perform experiments that study both their nuclear and chemical properties.

Why did you decide to participate in the SLAM competition?
As scientists, it is so important that we can communicate our work effectively to a wide range of audiences. I am always excited for an opportunity to talk about my research. This event is particularly exciting for me because I love stepping away from the nitty-gritty details of the experiments. Sometimes we forget to just step back and think big picture about why our research is cool. How it would have excited us as kids? This excitement is what we really need to communicate to people. That is what sparks wonder.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would your dream job be?
When I was younger, I really wanted to be either an actress or a singer. I did a lot of theater in high school and I actually entered college as a drama major! Unfortunately, my college cut the drama program the year I started college. I then decided that plan B was to major in science and I have never looked back!

Tell us about your hobbies!
I spend a lot of my free time doing yoga. Especially during this crazy time when I can’t leave the house. It has really helped me to relax and focus. I have been working up to doing some of the more complicated poses. I can just about do a headstand now!

What is your secret talent?
I love to sing and play the guitar. I have always loved singing ever since I was a kid. I saw Celine Dion in concert and I was just blown away. In the last couple of years I have taught myself how to play the ukulele and the guitar. Now I can sit and sing for hours!

P. James Dennedy-Frank – Energy Geosciences

What is your project at Berkeley Lab about?
My research seeks to understand how watersheds function and help determine how to manage them to ensure reliable water resources as landscapes are altered by a changing climate. To do so, I use sophisticated computational models that represent the physical processes that occur in watersheds, test these models with novel measurements focused on clearly identifying how watersheds function, and simulate the effects of climate and management changes.

Why did you decide to participate in the SLAM competition?
I participated in the SLAM competition to develop my skills in communicating my research to a broader audience, and to get some training in doing so.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would your dream job be?
I think I might enjoy being an architect—-creatively designing things no one has seen before, but having constraints from the materials and cost. Maybe these are similar skills to those I use in science.

Tell us about your hobbies!
My biggest hobby is definitely being outside, whether that is hiking, rock climbing, or biking. I really like getting out to see the complexity and beauty of the natural world.

What is your secret talent?
I’m very good at peek-a-boo–just ask my niece.

Mariah Parker – Chemical Sciences Division

What is your project at Berkeley Lab about?
I work on fundamental gas-phase reactions with actinide complexes to gain insight in the type of chemistry these reactions can do!

Why did you decide to participate in the SLAM competition?
This is going to sound too simple, but the truth is that it sounded fun!

If you weren’t a scientist, what would your dream job be?
Some sort of work with wild animals (elephants, orangutans, etc)

Tell us about your hobbies!
I do old lady crafts like crochet, cross-stitching, and embroidery

What is your secret talent?
I’m really strong! I can deadlift 405 lbs (184 kg) and back squat 365 lbs (166 kg)

Sara Gushgari-Doyle – Climate and Ecosystem Sciences

What is your project at Berkeley Lab about?
I use computational and big data approaches to inform strategies for culturing rare and difficult-to-culture microorganisms

Why did you decide to participate in the SLAM competition?
I thought it would be a good opportunity to practice talking about my research.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would your dream job be?
I think I would have enjoyed being an actor if I wasn’t a scientist.

Tell us about your hobbies!
I like to run with my German Shepherd Dog, Goose. Goose doesn’t enjoy the runs as much.

What is your secret talent?
I really enjoy building things. Most recently, I built outdoor dining furniture for our backyard.

Nari Yoon – Building Technology and Urban Systems

What is your project at Berkeley Lab about?
I explore methodologies to harness natural ventilation in building design and operations to save energy and enhance personal comfort.

Why did you decide to participate in the SLAM competition?
As important as it is to convey technical ideas to the general audience, it has always been challenging for me. SLAM has been a great opportunity to practice delivering my research goals. Not to mention the fun we’ll have on the D-day!

If you weren’t a scientist, what would your dream job be?
A CEO of a company! I’ve always dreamed of running my own business.

Tell us about your hobbies!
I recently started learning guitar, and enjoy singing real loud when I’m home alone.

What is your secret talent?
Not so talented, but I liked acting while I was in a drama club in college. Sending my love to those who kindly came to see me play each time and had endured my weird acting through many of my performances!

Final remarks!
Although we’ll miss the onsite live SLAM due to the pandemic, I’d like to thank Meg and Justin for organizing it in the best way it can be done. I also would love to meet with my peer finalists in person when the pandemic is over.