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Physicists who work in the energy sector address a wide range of challenging issues—from developing novel ways to store energy on the grid to researching renewable sources to replace fossil fuels. Dan Pisano, Director of Industrial Engagement, spoke with physicist Carlos Gutierrez, R&D Manager in the Nanoscale Sciences Department at Sandia National Laboratory, about his career in the energy field.
Pisano: What inspired you to become an energy researcher?
Gutierrez: Energy R&D caught my attention when I was in middle school in 1973, when the OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) oil embargo led to fuel shortages and sky-high prices throughout much of the decade, impacting the world economy and national security. Solutions required the development of new materials and materials science understanding for energy conservation and production. Additionally, materials and nuclear physics seemed to be a critical aspect of this interdisciplinary inquiry.
What is a typical work day like for you?
My day usually involves responsibilities for the activities in 20 research labs with diverse materials science activities, setting the overall research direction for my department. I am responsible for making sure that work is done safely and observing lab activities, so part of my day is spent in my department’s labs. I help teams procure new R&D equipment and get updates on more than 60 department research projects to ensure that adequate progress is being made and to facilitate the solutions to obstacles. I represent team R&D activities as needed in internal/external meetings, review internal and external R&D proposals, and engage in R&D strategy planning for the department.
As a national lab employee, do you interact with academia and commercial entities that work on energy production, distribution, and storage?
Yes, Sandia National Labs (like many other Department of Energy Labs) is encouraged to partner with academia and industry in these areas. We have expertise and resources that complement those at universities and industries targeting problems of national and world importance. Since we cannot compete with industry, we are engaged as “honest brokers” who help provide honest and unbiased technical appraisals of R&D solutions that help improve the result at the end. We have non-disclosure mechanisms that enable fruitful trustworthy collaborations. Our scientists can even take a leave of absence to pursue an idea in industry, and return later if desired to tackle a new problem.
How has APS supported the dissemination of your work?
The APS March Meeting is very important, especially relevant focused sessions and invited sessions organized by GERA (Topical Group on Energy Research and Applications), FIAP (Forum on Industrial and Applied Physics) etc. I think that PRX Energy is a promising new dissemination forum for the community.
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Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine