Coffee with SLAM finalists – Part 1

Margot Bezrutczyk

What’s your division?
JGI

Where did you do your graduate school?
Heinrich Heine University

Can you describe your research at LBNL?
I study plant-microbe interactions; specifically, I use single-cell technologies to characterize the relationship between plants and the root endosymbionts that provide them with nutrients.

Why did you decide to participate in the SLAM?
It’s a great opportunity to practice good science communication!

If you weren’t a scientist what job would you be doing today?
I’d be a gardener, which is what I was doing when I decided to move into plant biology.

Who was/were your inspiration along your journey?
I’ve had incredibly supportive colleagues, too many to list. But this is one special example: I worked in the lab of a Nobel laureate for a few years after college, and in the presence of his remarkable intellect, it was possible to see things more clearly. Sometimes I still ask myself what he would say, when I’m faced with challenges in the lab.

What’s your secret talent?
I’m pretty good at identifying birds by ear.

The one celebrity you’d want to have dinner with?
We’d have to bring him back to life, but my favorite author: David Foster Wallace.

Lisa Claus

What’s your division?
CRD

Where did you do your graduate school?
University of Wuppertal, Germany

Can you describe your research at LBNL?
My research focuses on the development of high-performance computing software to accelerate the simulation of various applications from climate models to electromagnetism.

Why did you decide to participate in the SLAM?
I enjoyed the SLAM talks from the past years a lot and wanted to see if I can present my research in a similar exciting way than they did.

If you weren’t a scientist what job would you be doing today?
I would open a bakery shop with various cookies, cupcakes, pastries and bread.

Who was/were you inspiration along your journey?
Being at Berkeley Lab and interacting and working with so many different people is inspiring to me. It is so great to see the variety of scientific and cultural backgrounds, lifestyles and career paths that the scientists here chose to take.

If you could re-live one day of your life which one would it be?
My graduation day, I was never soo nervous and scared but at the same time it was so exciting and fun.

What’s your secret talent?
Solving a Rubik’s cube.

The one celebrity you’d want to have dinner with?
Kevin Hart. I can imagine this would be an entertaining/fun dinner.

Maria Dzunkova

What’s your division?
Biosciences, JGI

Where did you do your graduate school?
Czech University of Life Sciences

Can you describe your research at LBNL?
Discovering new microbes by single-cell genomics techniques

Why did you decide to participate in the SLAM?
Science outreach is something very natural for me

If you weren’t a scientist what job would you be doing today?
Travel guide

Who was/were you inspiration along your journey?
My biology high school teacher gave me a lot of support for young researchers contests

If you could re-live one day of your life which one would it be?
If I make some errors in the SLAM presentation, I would like to get a chance to repeat it 🙂

What’s your secret talent?
Making crazy travel itineraries

Ryan Kingsbury

What’s your division?
ESDR

Where did you do your graduate school?
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Can you describe your research at LBNL?
I use computer simulations and experiments to study the behavior of ions dissolved in water and develop “design rules” for more selective ion filtration materials.

Why did you decide to participate in the SLAM?
I love the challenge of explaining complicated things in simple words, especially when it allows me to share my research with people outside my field. The SLAM provides a platform for reaching a huge scientific audience within the Lab as well as advanced training in public speaking skills. It’s a really exciting opportunity we have here and I’m thrilled to be able to participate.

If you weren’t a scientist what job would you be doing today?
I’ll give two answers, with the first being a bit of a cop out. Before my PhD I worked as a water treatment engineer, designing pipelines and water treatment plants. So if I weren’t a scientist it’s very likely I would still be doing that (although there are many similarities with what I still work on today).

In an alternate universe where I didn’t go into STEM at all, I think I would probably have studied economics or public policy and be doing something related to that.

Who was/were you inspiration along your journey?
So many. I could name at least one individual from every phase of my career (undergrad, master’s, two stints working in industry, PhD, and now postdoc) who has inspired me to grow, to move in a new direction, or just been an outstanding role model in some respect or another.
I’ll highlight a few in particular that prompted some of my most significant decisions. Right after undergrad I worked at CDM Smith (an engineering firm) in Austin, TX, and working with my two colleagues Ana Karamelagos (still there) and Bill Marriott (now at Stantec in Austin), who both had Master’s degrees, is what convinced me I should go to graduate school. Then I had to decide where to go. My undergraduate mentor Desmond Lawler at UT Austin (recently retired) suggested that I apply to UNC Chapel Hill and connected me with his former advisor, the late Phil Singer. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Phil was a giant in the field of water treatment. He accepted me as a Master’s student and put me on a project involving ion exchange, which I found fascinating. That project really planted the seed of scientific curiosity that eventually led me to my work on ion selectivity today.

If you could re-live one day of your life which one would it be?
That’s a tough one! Probably one of my birthdays during elementary school. We’d always have a big celebration with my extended family and lots of cake and presents. It’d be fun to re-live the uncomplicated excitement and joy you get at that age.

What’s your secret talent?
I have a strange aptitude for packing cars efficiently. If it’s time for a big trip and there’s a lot of luggage or whatever, leave me alone with it for a few minutes and I’ll make it fit.

The one celebrity you’d want to have dinner with?
Bill Gates. Although he has his flaws like all of us humans, he thinks deeply about big problems and has used his wealth in some really positive ways in the last decade or so. I like his example of stewardship.