Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Karis McFarlane

Pronouns: she/her, they/them

Earth Scientist

Atmospheric, Earth, and Energy Division

July 7, 2022

What do you like about working at the Lab?

The Lab is filled with interesting and important science, new learning opportunities and areas to work in, and different people to team up with. It is a very dynamic place to work and the work we do is always changing to address new challenges.

What do your day-to-day work activities include?

In my research, I use radiocarbon to track carbon as it moves through ecosystems, is stored in soils, and cycles back into the atmosphere. A lot of my day-to-day activities include making sure that our group is succeeding in our field and laboratory work. I also spend a lot of my time interpreting and discussing data, writing scientific papers, and developing new research proposal ideas.

What is one project you’re really proud to have worked on?

It’s so hard to choose just one—I have worked with many great people on a variety of interesting projects. I’m really proud of the Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Climatic and Environmental Changing Environments (SPRUCE) experiment. SPRUCE is a US Department of Energy project where a large group of scientists and researchers, myself included, are learning about the impacts of climate change on a forested peatland in Minnesota.

What is your educational or career background?

After high school, I have a BS in environmental science from DePaul University, MS at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry (yep, it’s a mouthful!), and finally a PhD in forest engineering with a minor in soil science from Oregon State University. I started my postdoctoral research position a few weeks after finishing school, and I have been at the Lab for 14 years.

What inspired you to go into science?

I was always curious, especially about nature and the relationship between plants and animals (including humans). When I was young, I also wondered about Earth’s place in the universe and was interested in space, stars, and other planets. I went to space camp when I was in 8th grade and discovered that I really wanted to learn about Earth—there are so many interesting things to learn about right here! At that time, people were worried about protecting wetlands and tropical forests. Learning about those ecosystems and helping to protect them felt really important to me. I also cared a lot about environmental justice and the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and human communities. Working at the Lab and researching the interactions between climate and environmental systems has been a great fit for me.

What advice would you give to a new employee at the Lab?

Meet and interact with people outside your immediate group to learn about the other work people are doing at the Lab. The Lab is a highly collaborative and supportive environment, and you'll find a lot of us are happy to talk about our work and the ways we could work together, we can even connect you with others who can help you if you're stuck. Keep an eye out for good mentors to help you in different areas—there are a lot of great ones here.

What are your hobbies/what do you do in your free time?

I love spending time with my kids, both of whom are in elementary school. My family loves dogs and fosters for local animal rescues. I practice yoga, garden, read fiction, and love hiking, trail running, and bicycling. I am also a part of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory Women’s Association (LLLWA).

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