Stephanie Shaw is a Principal Technical Leader at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI; www.epri.com) where she is responsible for the strategic research direction of air quality monitoring and environmental impacts of emerging energy technologies. Her career path has unexpectedly led her to a role that fits the range of topics that fascinated her when she was younger: engineering, chemistry, environment, energy and education.
Stephanie’s dream job as a kid was “mad scientist” – something like Doc Brown from Back to the Future, but with better judgement (and better hair!) She was thrilled to get her B.S. in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she knew she was in the right place the first time a robot rolled past the door of her dorm room. Her first undergraduate research job was testing the performance of a new sorbent-catalyst ceramic intended to remove SO2, NOx and particles from the coal-fired power plant flue gas. While she wasn’t hanging out with Tony Stark, she was in a basement lab with tubes, compressed gases and lasers. This would turn out to be influential to her later career path. First, she wanted to delve more into the natural environment into which anthropogenic facilities such as power plants emitted pollutants. She earned an atmospheric chemistry Ph.D. at MIT by creating an interdisciplinary collaboration between the analytical chemistry laboratory in the Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science department, the biological oceanography laboratory in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department (https://cee.mit.edu/people_individual/sallie-w-penny-chisholm/) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. She investigated ecological and physiological drivers of biogenic air emissions, which interact in the atmosphere with anthropogenic pollutants. Stephanie was awarded a NOAA Climate and Global Change post-doctoral research fellowship (https://cpaess.ucar.edu/cgc), which she performed at the University of California, Berkeley (https://nature.berkeley.edu/ahg/research-team/). She loved the hands-on “mad scientist” lab and field work, and the dynamic research group, but was driven to the real-world environmental challenges of industry. Thus, she joined ChemRisk, a consulting firm, and investigated human exposure to air toxicants from vehicles, solvents, and petroleum-based products.
Stephanie found her way to EPRI when she realized she could combine her various energy and environmental research interests together for immediate practical application. She serves as a program manager and principal scientist, developing new research projects, securing and distributing funding, and creating interdisciplinary teams with agencies, academics and consultants to execute that work. Her research portfolio has improved estimates of greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions, clarified air quality impacts from energy and industrial technologies (e.g. power plants, natural gas, carbon capture, biofuels), and improved monitoring techniques (http://eprijournal.com/miniature-monitoring/).
Now Stephanie is helping the electricity industry transition into a phase with substantially more renewables, energy storage, distributed generation, and electrified end-use technologies (e.g. electric vehicles), and less centralized fossil fuel generation. She spearheaded a program to evaluate air, solid waste, life cycle assessment and human health and safety impacts of these new technologies and operational strategies to ensure any issues are addressed at early stages, and don’t hinder widespread adoption (http://eprijournal.com/distributed-and-fueled/). One example is determining barriers, quantifying environmental impacts and proposing solutions to end of life management (e.g. disposal and recycling) of solar photovoltaic modules and utility-scale battery storage. Explaining complicated new scientific concepts and their relationship to industry is core to EPRI’s public benefit mission and technology transfer role. Stephanie created an EPRI-wide educational seminar series titled “Fundamentals of the Power Industry” that was later emulated by a local professional organization.
Stephanie joined ESWN in 2003 (!) and is proud to be part of an organization devoted to excellent science, inclusivity and peer mentoring. The challenges women in science face are often worsened due to the perception they are alone in their role, department or challenge. The ESWN forums demonstrate this is not the case and facilitate necessary communication, providing a range of feedback and perspectives on career, management, teaching and self-improvement. The diverse career paths of the members, and watching young scientists forge their own unique paths, are always inspirational.
She loves spending time with her husband and three daughters playing board games and enjoying the outdoors. Her family is her cornerstone, and she is grateful they continue to guide and support her.