By Theresa Duque
Sinéad Griffin, an early-career staff scientist who specializes in condensed matter physics at the Molecular Foundry and the Materials Science Division, won first place and a cash price of $3,000 at the first annual Lab-Wide Research Slam last Thursday. Shyam Dwaraknath (Energy Technologies Area) won the second-place prize of $1,500, and Michele Rosso of the Computing Sciences Area won the People’s Choice Award of $750.
In her winning talk titled “Dark Matters,” Griffin compared her work – the development of a new detector material that’s light enough to detect very light dark matter – to developing a tool that can detect things that go bump in the night. “I like doing talks and outreach, but because I work with materials, I don’t always have a chance to talk about dark matter. This was such a nice event to practice that skill, and because our cohort of finalists is so diverse, I learned a lot about what everyone’s working on,” she said.
To prepare for the competition, Griffin skyped with her mom, who lives in Ireland. “My mom isn’t a scientist, but whenever I’m starting a new project, she wants to know what I’m working on,” she said. “To be able to explain to a general audience in three minutes, you have to look at your research from a wide angle, describe your key innovation, and set up the problem correctly so your story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.”
Griffin, along with Dwaraknath and Rosso, competed against nine other finalists at the Thursday event – a friendly “pitch slam” where speakers have just 2-3 minutes to describe their research before a general audience. Although only three people walked away with prizes, each of the 12 finalists will get a professionally edited video of their competition speech, which they can use for future opportunities. “Everyone comes out a winner,” said Postdoc Program Manager Meg Rodriguez of Human Resources who organized the event, and also coordinates training opportunities and events for the Berkeley Lab postdoc community. “It’s so important for our early career scientists to be able to communicate their science so that anyone – not just people in the research community – can understand why their work is important,” she added.
Rodriguez said that the event couldn’t have taken place without support from Lab Director Mike Witherell, Deputy Director for Research Horst Simon, Senior Advisor to the Deputy Laboratory Director for Research Bill Johansen, staff scientist Rebecca Abergel of the Chemical Sciences Division, Chemical Sciences HR Partner Dina Michael, and a committee of volunteers. “I received a lot of support from people all over. It takes a village,” she said.