EngineerGirl @ Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

#EngineerGirlShow highlights amazing women in engineering to inspire the next generation. This series was produced by George Retelas with his digital art students at SAE Institute

Watch interviews with Julie Jackson, Terry Land, Suzanne Singer, Vanessa Tolosa, and Monique Warren from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California.

Interview Transcript

So what are some of the projects that you've recently worked on?

Terry Land (TL): So at the National Ignition Facility, it's a large laser facility, largest in the world — it’s about size of three football fields an has 192 laser beams that are about 40 centimeters each. And one of the things you have to do is have these special optics that double and triple the frequency of light. And so I grew the crystals, these, that they used to make these optics. So these crystals are 800 pounds, so they're, you know, big, giant crystals that are nearly perfect. And we had to figure out a way to grow them that large and that perfect that you can put a high-power laser through them.

Did you get to interact with any of the filming for Star Trek?

TL: That was a very cool experience. They came and they were on our site for about three weeks. They really liked it because they could get these shots in this big volume space.

So how did you like meeting the movie stars?

TL: It's incredible to look at the vision that they have, how they can see something, you know, basically a blank slate, and know what they want it to look like. This sounds lame but it's kind of like a team of scientists. You still need a whole team of people with all the different backgrounds to pull it all together and make it work.

Before you decided to be an engineer, what did you think that you wanted to be?

Julie Jackson (JJ): I think I wanted to be a vet for a long time because I was around animals a lot, but then I realized that I would have gotten way too sad to be around the sick ones.

What could a mechanical engineer do to make something that would actually help a veterinarian?

JJ: They could help make prosthetics for dogs. Actually, 3D printing is used a lot to make prosthetics.

What is 3D printing?

JJ: So 3D printing is basically taking a computer model and turning it into a physical object, layer by layer.

What activities you're involved in as a teenager?

JJ: I was actually heavily involved in Future Farmers of America or FFA. From the ages of 9 to 19, I showed two sheep every year at the Alameda County Fair. At the end of the fair, I would auction my sheep off, and I was actually able to put myself through college with the money that I raised.

So would that be a “scholar sheep”?

JJ: Never heard that one before! [laughs]

How did water conservation affect you and your family?

Suzanne Singer (SS): So my grandparents, for example, live in a very rural area. The Navajo Reservation is roughly the size of West Virginia, so it’s a very big place. Their nearest neighbor is probably 5 to 10 miles away. And so they didn’t have electricity or running water and so you become much more aware of like, the energy of the water that you're using.

While you are growing up, who is a fictional character that you look up to?

SS: You know a character I really liked when I was younger was She-Ra, a.k.a. the Princess of Power. She was kind of just a powerful character in the cartoon world when I was growing up. She had this horse that, you know, when she turned into her superhero side, he would turn into a unicorn, Pegasus. You know, she wanted to do good and help people around her, I think was the big thing, yeah. My cousins, we had like one, a few probably like He-Man action figures. We decided to make a pool at where my grandma lives in the middle of sand dunes. So we started like digging out of water. We kept filling it with water and obviously sand does not retain water very well. My grandma finally caught us and we got in trouble, but… [laughs]

What He-Man characters did you have?

SS: You know, I don't remember the name, I think it was a bad guy. He was like an orange furry character and, sorry, I cannot remember his name.

[He-Man cartoon clip]

So what do you do here at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory?

Vanessa Tolosa (VT): We actually make devices that are implanted into the body to restore function for people who are suffering either from a disease or from an accident. So for example, we make these devices called neural interfaces and we've made prosthesis for the eye, so we've helped people who are blind see again. There are prostheses out there that help people who have lost their arm feel things again when you stimulate their nerves. And so there's a lot left to be done, but those are some of the kind of things that we're doing now with the engineering devices.

So you can engineer things and help people at once?

VT: Yes, that's… When you're working in the biomedical engineering field, everything you’re engineering is to help people. So for example, if you've seen Star Trek there is a character, Geordi La Forge, who had a visor that he could switch the kind of vision that he would be seeing. There's also characters in Star Wars, for example Luke Skywalker. When he loses his arm, there's, he eventually gets his arm back, but a robotic arm. He's able to move it just by thinking about it. So we're moving in that direction.

Why did you choose engineering?

Monique Warren (MW): I guess it's the closest thing to being a superhero. They just solve real-world problems, and that meant so much to me. Like, you get to solve a problem and that's how my mind works. I like to solve problems and so engineering was just the most interesting major to me.

What obstacles did you face when you are entering this industry?

MW: It's just like, whoa, I'm so young, I'm so different, but maintaining that mentality that if I just put my mind to it I can do it has gotten me through that.

Why do you think it's important for girls to pursue engineering and to keep up their math and science skills?

MW: Try — to just get into science, get into math, get into engineering and see if they like it. Because if, you know, you just write it off you'll never know if you have an interest in that field, so I would encourage girls to just try.

Who is a fictional character that inspired you?

MW: I would say Martha Jones from Doctor Who. She was in the series when David Tennant was the Doctor. She was just really awesome. She was a doctor -- not the Doctor but a doctor, and yeah, she put the Doctor in his place, so I really liked her.

[Doctor Who clip]

Thank you for coming to speak today. I thought it was really inspirational, and if I'm one day in your position, I'm gonna say that you're the person who inspired me.

MW: Oh thank you!

Last question: Can I have a hug?

MW: Yes, you can.