Noelle Catarineu

Materials Science Division

July 10, 2020

What do you like about your job?

I love that part of my job is to constantly improve myself as a scientist. I’ve gotten to work on a diverse group of projects, and each one has involved delving into a different type of scientific discipline and developing new skills. The opportunity to contribute to large-scale scientific missions that can’t be accomplished anywhere else in the world, such as my work for the National Ignition Facility, is also very rewarding. I enjoy the campus feel of the site as well. It’s full of different buildings, some historic, some brand new and state-of-the-art, and each one has high-tech instrumentation or other resources devoted to a particular scientific question or technique.

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

Sometimes I know exactly what I need to do and how to do it and can get right to work taking data in the lab, fixing a piece of equipment, or processing data on the computer. Other days, if I’m beginning a new project or working on a particularly challenging problem, I might be at my desk doing background research and reading about scientific topics in journal articles and books or with a co-worker seeking their expertise. I also take time to learn about other people’s science by attending seminars by speakers from within the Lab or outside institutions.

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

It’s not exactly scientific in nature, but I’m really proud of the work I’m doing related to diversity and inclusion and improving the employee experience as part of the PLS Workforce and Communication Committee. In particular, I’m excited for the launch of a new mentoring program I’ve developed. I think it’s great that the Lab is open to new grassroots ideas from its staff about how to improve workplace culture. It’s also fun to work on a non-science, more people-focused project to balance all the time spent thinking about data and scientific concepts.

What is your educational or career background?

I have a BS in chemistry from New York University, where I also minored in mathematics and Spanish. I then obtained my PhD in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. I worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Sandia National Laboratory across the street in Livermore before I came here as a staff member.

What inspired you to go into science?

Interestingly, as a child I never really wanted to be a scientist. I remember in 8th grade science class, my teacher told me I would make a great scientist after doing well on an exam. Although I liked the class, I actually felt sort of offended at the suggestion! I thought of scientists as mostly nerdy older men, and that didn’t sound like me. However, in high school, I became fascinated with how the world works, and I decided I wanted to continue studying science in college.

I also loved the laboratory sections of my high school and college science courses. I thought they were the most fun way to spend a class period. I was also motivated by the promise science holds to solve the world’s problems, from curing disease to providing for a sustainable future. I chose chemistry because it’s thought of as the “central science” in that it connects other fields, such as physics and biology.

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

Explore as much as possible. The Lab is quite large both in terms of people and buildings. There are projects ranging across every type of science and engineering here, and employees are free to get involved in new things. I also recommend asking questions. Many people have worked at the Lab for over 20 or even 30 years. It’s important to speak up and ask if you don’t understand something, whether it’s what one of the many three letter acronyms used here stands for, the motivation behind a particular Lab mission, or a specific technical topic.

What do you do in your free time?

I try to take advantage of living in California and the Bay Area as much as possible. I take road trips across the state often to go camping at mountains, lakes, and beaches. I also love going to museums, art galleries, concerts, and restaurants in San Francisco. I spend at least one day per month volunteering. Another big hobby I have is gardening, and I even have a garden plot on site here with the Lab’s Gardening Networking Group. I’m also a member of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory Women’s Association.

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