Annette Greiner

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

November 19, 2020

Annette Greiner has been at Berkeley Lab since 1994, first starting as a science writer and then moving into web application development, ultimately landing at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC). Her colleague notes: “Annette does amazing work around web and user interface design and development, and is an expert in data visualization and analysis. She works with both NERSC, and previously taught a class on campus on data visualization. Without a doubt, she's one of the most skilled practitioners in this area.”

In her free time, Annette enjoys bicycling as both a hobby and basic transit; you may find her and her husband, Martin, riding together on their tandem bike. She also loves hiking, spending time with her dogs Alma and Bugsy, knitting, and watching silent movies.

What inspired you to work at Berkeley Lab?

Having moved to California from the Midwest, I knew of the Lab and its strong scientific reputation. The Lab’s focus on basic science to benefit the world was the most attractive thing for me. I love knowing that so many Nobel Prizes were awarded to scientists here, so much of the periodic table was elucidated here, and even the concept of national laboratories - enabling science that can’t be done elsewhere - was born here.

I also appreciate that, in addition to supporting basic science, the Lab is advancing the understanding of how humans can live better through smarter technologies. As a web developer, the Lab’s involvement in the development of the Internet and the World Wide Web stood out to me as well.

What excites you about your work at the Lab?

My work focuses on providing insights by making data and information available to researchers via web applications. Whether it’s showing how to better utilize computing services at NERSC or providing analysis tools for understanding research data, I get excited when I show a visualization or tool to a researcher and they are able to learn something from what I’ve created. For example, I once showed an early version of a multidimensional visualization to a research team, and they were immediately able to see a pattern in the data that helped them refine their analysis pipeline.

As a science geek, I’m always excited by the opportunity to work with top-tier researchers and have some impact on the growth of human knowledge. My work has covered a highly diverse array of subjects, from systems biology to climate modeling to exascale computational resilience. Each time I embark on a new subject, I get a jolt of enthusiasm.

What have you been most proud of in your work?

First and foremost, I’m proud to work at NERSC as a member of the technical staff. I first started at the Lab in 1994 as a science writer, and then moved into web application development as the web itself matured. I pursued studies at UC Berkeley in information management and systems and was thrilled to find a role in a supercomputing center. My academic work centered on user interface design and data visualization. A supercomputing center may seem like an odd choice, but NERSC has a tradition of working hard to make its resources user-friendly and usable.

One of my earliest projects at NERSC was part of the effort to bring high-performance computing (HPC) to the web. One of the first things I did was enable a traditional HPC code, the Vienna Ab initio Simulation Package (VASP), to run from a web browser. I was thrilled that I could run jobs on a top 10 supercomputer from a web browser on my phone. Later on, I had the chance to work on the initial user interface for the Materials Project, which brought a powerful graphical interface for precomputed VASP data to a broad range of users.

I’m also very proud of my work on the R&D 500 award-winning OpenMSI project. OpenMSI enables easy viewing of imaging mass spectrometry datasets. More recently, I’ve really enjoyed working on the Web of Microbes, which visualizes microbial metabolite movement across environments.

Finally, I’m proud of my work with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). I’ve been involved with the consortium’s data activity and played a key role in writing the Data on the Web Best Practices. I‘m happy to represent the Lab on the W3C Advisory Committee and the Dataset Exchange Working Group.

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

The key is to keep learning. On the web development side, tools and techniques change constantly, and the libraries you code with today may well be obsolete in five years. Keep aware of trends, and learn the tools and techniques that may have some staying power.

On the design side, pursuing formal education in this area was a big benefit to my career. It filled gaps in my knowledge of computing, introduced me to the mindset of user-centered design, and helped me develop a competitive portfolio. It gave me the full toolset that industry-leading design teams bring to bear along with the confidence to wield it.

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

I’ve been pleased to see strong efforts being made throughout the Lab to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in recent years. It’s important to establish a culture that provides psychological safety for everyone so that we are able to retain talented women and people of color.

Hiring can be a challenge, as one can find that they are not seeing enough applicants from underrepresented groups. Some steps we can take to address this challenge include (1) ensuring that job postings don’t have a subtle bias, (2) being careful to standardize screening questions, and (3) recruiting from more industries, educational institutions, and organizations that support underrepresented communities.

I’m hopeful that we can further distinguish ourselves as a place where anyone can find success, and continue to reinforce our world-class reputation as a result.