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

June 14, 2022

Monika (Moni) Blum is a research scientist at the Advanced Light Source (ALS) and the Chemical Sciences Division (CSD) at Berkeley Lab. At the ALS, she is a beamline scientist working with users from all over the world and establishing new instrumentations in the field of Ambient Pressure X-ray and Photoelectron Spectroscopy to help understand fundamental and energy science topics like ion solvation, CO2 absorption, and electrolyte properties for batteries to name a few. In CSD, she is a principal investigator for the Condensed Phase and Interfacial Molecular Science program, one of the Lab’s Department of Energy core programs.

Outside of the Lab, Moni enjoys hiking with her husband and dog, baking, reading, and gardening. But you’ll likely find her on the water racing sailboats. She is currently training for her first ocean-crossing race across the Pacific. She and her five teammates will leave the Bay for Oahu in July and are aiming to complete this race in 10 to 12 days.

What inspired you to work at Berkeley Lab?

As a graduate student, I was a user at the ALS and instantly liked the Lab and the community of people. Everyone was so friendly, helpful, and interested in moving science forward as a team. It’s this team science culture that drew me back to the Lab multiple times. I came back in 2009 as a postdoc in residency; as an assistant research professor for the University of Nevada in Las Vegas; and eventually was hired as a full-time scientific engineering associate before becoming a research scientist.

I do find my research field very exciting, but the biggest draw for me was the opportunity to work in a diverse environment with a wonderful community and to “live” team science. Living team science means working with a team and collaborating with others to tackle a scientific problem. Having multiple fields present means different perspectives on the problem as well as the solution, which is always a learning experience. It is an honor to work with so many talented and brilliant people to move science forward every day.

What does your current scientific project or research entail?

Right now, my research focuses on the observation of fast chemical processes in a liquid environment, particularly in utilizing and developing cutting-edge in situ X-ray and photoelectron spectroscopies. As the focus is on liquid environments, we implement ambient pressure techniques to understand different interfaces, which are important for fundamental and energy science related topics.

What have you been most proud of in your work?

Most recently, I celebrated a major accomplishment in December 2021 after taking the first set of data with my newly developed system. When I pivoted into my research scientist position, my goal was to establish liquid measurements but the pandemic delayed being able to get my system in place and commissioned. I’m very thankful for all of the support that went into this big milestone, and am incredibly proud of being able to bring a new capability to the ALS.

Another accomplishment I’m proud of is my work in putting together a guide for hiring managers and committees for the energy sciences area. I co-led this effort with the Molecular Foundry’s Jim Ciston and collaborated with the division’s diversity committees and other stakeholders to formulate a common hiring guide to share best practices in minimizing biases in the hiring process. Today, all four energy sciences divisions are using these guidelines for job postings, hiring committees, bias training, interviews, and even providing a feedback loop to those who support onboarding to set up new employees for success. Making sure the Lab’s IDEA principles are followed throughout the entire hiring process is a big step in the right direction to attracting and retaining a diverse workforce at the Lab.

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

Be curious, open minded, and don’t be afraid to explore crazy ideas. It is important that your work interests and excites you and, at the end of the day, makes you happy. It is also very helpful to have a good mentor who accompanies you along the way.

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

It is a hard task since one needs to start very early on to truly make an impact and disprove the misguided assumption that girls are not naturally good or interested in math and science. It often just takes a single person to spark this interest in someone else and make a huge impact.

As a community, the Lab can help change this effort by continuing to highlight success stories and give kids role models by leading by example. For example, the Lab already has many great outreach programs for girls and underrepresented groups. I’ve had the pleasure to participate in events such as the SAGE summer camp or STEM high school visits to share my story and potentially connect and inspire the next generation of scientists.