Spotlight: Lei Cheng

July 2022 Edition

Lei Cheng, Chemist, MSD

Growing up in China, Lei Cheng had hoped to travel and see the wide range of wonders throughout the country. By the time she was old enough to do it, she was an undergraduate chemistry major at Qingdao University. Money she might have spent traveling was earmarked for advancing her studies and pursuing professional dreams.

Cheng, today a chemist in Argonne’s materials science division and the focus area lead for JCESR, has been living and working in the United States for at least a dozen years. But, she still dreams of taking that trip.

“If I had a month to do whatever I wanted, I’d probably go to China to visit my family and travel,” she said. She spoke from a hotel room where she had quickly dialed in after a domestic flight and a rushed drive from the airport. When asked if she would take her two young daughters, ages two and six, along for the experience, she reflected that she’d probably go on her own.

“During family time, I really focus on quality and try not to think about work in order to reduce my stress,” said Cheng. “I take my responsibilities at this stage of their young lives very seriously, but it’s important that my daughters see that I have a life and that [women] can advance their professional careers at a lower intensity. We don’t give up.”

Cheng has always been drawn to chemistry, math and physics. They seemed “more real” to her than other subjects, and her curiosity and interest were encouraged and rewarded. Developing a career, she became involved in battery research at Argonne. The field has proven to be a satisfying way she can accomplish her personal goal: make meaningful, concrete contributions to society and improve how people live through the advances of chemistry.

“I am a research scientist developing materials for next generation batteries so I get to work with knowledgeable colleagues in a multidisciplinary team to advance technology,” she explained. “Collaborating and accomplishing big things is fun. I believe if you work on what interests you, you will persevere.”

Her advice to other women interested in pursuing careers in science and technology is to be open and proactive when interested in advancement.

“Too many times I hear people say, ‘I didn’t know she was interested,’” said Cheng. “Take the simple step of letting leadership know your career goals and ambitions.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cheng has been unable for three years to travel internationally or see distant family. But, as restrictions lift, it’s likely Cheng will meet her goal sooner rather than later. She continues to try to work efficiently, set small goals, give each area of life its due, and know when to say no. With that approach, it’s easy to believe Cheng’s dream of exploring new parts of the world is just a matter of time.

Reflecting on Science Careers in Search of Women 2022

A message from the SCSW Co-Chairs, Lauren Boldon & Emily Zvolanek:

Science Careers in Search of Women (SCSW) was held virtually on Friday, April 29th for more than 110 high-school girls across the Chicagoland area. The goal of SCSW is to inspire young women to pursue careers in science, bringing them virtually to Argonne for a day of lectures, tours, career booth exhibits, and mentoring.

While the virtual atmosphere is different than in-person, the students remained engaged throughout the day and were excited to see the virtual tours and videos of the Materials Engineering Research Facility (MERF), Advanced Photon Source (APS), and EcoCar. Additionally, they were very interested in the experiences of the keynote speakers – Dr. Lori Ann Post, Director of the Institute for Public Health and Medicine at Northwestern University, and Michelle Larson, President and CEO of Adler Planetarium.

The students connected with Argonne scientists in fields of interest to them via the career panels and career booths, as well as in small group sessions with scientists. Meanwhile, teachers were provided an opportunity to listen to lectures from Argonne scientists, as well as network and engage with each other in a parallel teacher panel.

SCSW could not have happened without the support of the broader Laboratory community, but WIST would especially like to thank the Organizing Committee, Career Panel and Booth presenters and moderators, and the small group session volunteers.

Reflecting on Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day 2022

A message from the IGED Co-Chairs, Amanda Joyce & Caitlyn Sarna:

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (IGED) was held virtually on Friday, February 18, 2022 for over 140 eighth-grade girls, across the United States, to introduce them to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) careers through presentations, panel discussions, experiments, and interactive learning. The event overall was a large success. In addition to the eighth-grade girls, we had 73 mentors engaged throughout the day to assist with questions and keep the girls involved. The schedule of the day is below which included welcoming remarks from Dr. Geraldine Richmond, The Undersecretary for Science and Innovation from The United States Department of Energy and Congressman Bill Foster.

The goal of the day is to immerse the girls in discussion and topics on various careers and opportunities that are available to them either through school or career paths such as internships as well as to provide them guidance and mentorship about persevering through biases and doubt of themselves to achieve their own greatness.

While the event atmosphere was different not being in-person, the program did not disappoint. There is nothing better than receiving positive notes after an event that reaps the benefits of the hard work Here is what some of the guardians of these young women sent to us after the event,

“Thank you for this opportunity for my daughter. She really enjoyed the day—it was so well organized! Appreciate it!”

“Thank you so much for this opportunity!! My daughter enjoyed it immensely!! She spent hours after playing a hacking/cyber security game online!”

A message from a school’s director of technology and curriculum said, “What an exceptional day of learning and collaboration Argonne Lab has put on together to ignite passion and increase confidence in our young engineers. We are excited to see how this event will impact the career course of our future leaders!”

In short, IGED is a day that will forever be an amazing day in the eyes of these young STEAM women. We as co-chairs would like to thank the steering committee who spent countless hours over the last several months working to make this virtual IGED day a success. We also want to thank the mentors and the support staff who took time out of their day to provide each girl a direct line of communication with a scientist, technologist, engineer, artist, or mathematician. Thank you to our speakers throughout the day who provided their encouraging words. Finally, thank you to all the girls who joined us.