Jiamin Wan

Visible Spectrum is a series to spotlight talented and dedicated women employees across the Lab

January 5, 2021

Over the past nearly three decades, Jiamin Wan’s research has had a high impact in diverse areas across earth and environmental sciences. Her colleague notes: “Jiamin is well-recognized for her persistence and production of high-quality scientific work and publications. Through her work with the Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER), she has advanced understanding of hillslope weathering processes, subsurface nitrogen exports, and so much more.”

When not at the Lab, Jiamin enjoys reading, cycling, and playing table tennis.

What inspired you to work at Berkeley Lab?

Even before I completed my doctorate, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory was my first choice and ideal institution. I was drawn to the Lab’s preeminent reputation and history with its many Nobel Prize winners.

What does your current scientific project or research entail?

I currently work on a DOE Biological and Environmental Research Science Focus Area (SFA) project, where I am investigating how subsurface (referring to soil and underlying rock) hydrologic and biogeochemical processes affect carbon and nitrogen cycling, and how these processes impact global warming. I am the lead author on a recent SFA publication that showed that the fluctuating water table controls the depth of bedrock weathering.

I am leading a study that shows bedrock weathering releases significant amounts of nitrogen that becomes gaseous nitrous oxide, accounting for about 10-17% of global terrestrial emissions of this gas. Understanding this natural process is important because nitrous oxide is a powerful ozone-depleting gas and greenhouse gas.

I also work on a project investigating the fate of water in hydraulically-fractured shale gas reservoirs. My goal is to understand and manipulate the interfacial properties of deep geological materials to enhance hydrocarbon recovery.

What have you been most proud of in your work?

I am most proud of the originality of my research over the past three decades and appreciate the opportunity to make exciting discoveries and help solve global problems.

For example, one of my research findings demonstrated that reductive bioremediation of uranium in contaminated groundwaters is not sustainable, leading to its abandonment as a remediation strategy. Conversely, I’ve also worked on a project that proposed and proved that humic acid barriers are effective in remediating acidic uranium plumes in contaminated groundwaters, and this best practice is still in use.

Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter and/or succeed in your field of work?

I think that critical thinking, honesty, and persistence are the most important characteristics of a good researcher. While the number of publications is important for promotion, this is not the only success metric of an effective scientist. Instead, focus on the originality of the project and research question - the most significant discoveries lead to the highest impacts.

How can our community engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

As a community and institution, we need to make career pathways for women from diverse backgrounds visible and attainable. To identify and develop female scientific leaders, it is imperative that their scientific accomplishments are recognized. As part of that, we also need to ensure equal pay and benefits. It is key to retain and continue supporting working women scientists.