Jens Birkholzer

Acting Associate Lab Director

Earth and Environmental Sciences Area (EESA)

Jens (pronounced Yens) Birkholzer became acting ALD for EESA in February of this year when Susan Hubbard, who had been in that role, was named Deputy for Science and Technology at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (effective March 1, 2022). Jens, an internationally recognized expert in subsurface energy applications and environmental impact assessment, has served as the Director for the Energy Geosciences Division (EGD) in EESA since 2015. He has been at Berkeley Lab since 1994, except for a stint from 1999-2001 when he was the chief engineer and project manager for the construction of the new international airport in Dusseldorf, Germany. The massive project helped him gain experience in decision-making and in personnel, time, and budget management, which has been helpful in science management at the Lab.

What are you most excited about at EESA these days?


First of all, I am excited to welcome staff back onsite. After having most of our staff working remotely for two years, I’m looking forward to a vibrant on- and off-site community and a new way of working that supports productivity as well as work-life balance.


I’m also excited about the opportunities ahead of us. EESA is an organization of about 500 staff and affiliates with expertise in climate and ecosystem sciences and energy geosciences, focused on tackling some of the most pressing environmental and energy challenges of the 21st century. Our work fits incredibly well with the needs of our times, and with DOE’s research priorities and goals. Our climate resilience, sustainability, and carbon management research portfolio aligns well with DOE’s goals for clean energy and to fight climate change, with programs that span fundamental and applied science. In short, we are geared up for some great opportunities that are emerging now.


Jens in his postdoc years

You were a postdoc at Berkeley Lab many years ago. Can you talk about that experience and do you have any advice for today’s Lab postdocs?


Yes, I joined the Lab in 1994 as a postdoc. I was lucky that I had the support of a scholarship, which initially gave me the flexibility to pick what I considered the most exciting areas to work on.


I’m very impressed with our current postdocs––the quality of their science, their work ethic, their persistence. One piece of advice I’d give is to expand your horizons. Being a postdoc isn’t always just about the science and publications and going down a straight path. It’s important to make connections at the Lab and beyond, to build relationships, to work in teams, and to learn new skills. Grab opportunities when they arise.


In what ways does EESA partner with other Areas?


As a relatively small and still growing Area, EESA has always relied on close scientific connections with the other Areas at Berkeley Lab. A few exciting examples: We work with colleagues in the Computing Sciences Area on machine learning and data science, and in the Energy Technologies Area on urban resilience and techno-economic analysis. We will soon be neighbors with Biosciences Area staff and scientists in the new BioEPIC building. We have a tight connection with the Energy Sciences Area, especially with the Chemical Sciences Division, working with researchers there to explore reactive micro-environmentss. And we are testing a new soil carbon monitoring device with colleagues in the Physical Sciences Area.


We are very excited about the Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program’s new multi-Area track; it will give us additional opportunities to expand our relationships with other Areas.