Energy And Sustainability Analyst,
Argonne National Laboratory
Although the economic downturn has slowed down employment in the chemical engineering field, Diane Graziano
still sees this profession as vital to the future and a great opportunity for women.
"Chemical engineers are uniquely qualified to contribute to the green economy-in energy, environment, and chemical fields," she
Adding a biofocus, many projects in the growing health and medical industries will continue to need chemical engineering perspectives.
"The human body is like a chemical plant," Graziano
explains, "with material and energy flows, pumps, pipes, reactors, heat exchangers, chemical kinetics, diffusion, thermodynamics..."
National security is another area where chemical engineers make significant contributions and will be needed in the future.
"Now that women are currently outnumbering men in college enrollments, the necessity for more women to enter engineering fields is critical," she
When commenting on the differences Graziano
observes in men and women's approaches to engineering challenges, she
says, "I'd like to agree with generalities about women being better team players, communicators, listeners, and multitaskers.
But these traits aren't shared by all women, and I've met many talented male engineers who excel in these capabilities."
Graziano, who has earned her PhD, is a chemical engineer whose position is most aptly described as energy and sustainability analyst.
The end goal of her
research is to promote the widespread adoption of sustainable energy practices and technologies.
For now, she
focuses on the production and use of biofuels.
"By running these simulations under different scenarios," Graziano
explains, "we can illuminate how a regionally dependent, complex system like the biofuels value chain might evolve from the ground up in response to regulatory and market environments.
With this added insight, we can identify investments and policies that will promote the market adoption of biofuels."
Entering the college of engineering at Purdue University without a vocational plan, she enrolled in a freshman engineering lecture course that expanded her horizons: engineers working in industry shared their knowledge about various disciplines.
was first taken with the idea of nuclear engineering-a later seminar on chemical engineering intrigued Graziano
was curious about the many industries that utilize the skills of chemical engineers and fascinated by how those skills were being applied to a wide range of projects.
Participation in a cooperative educational program crystallized her
second assignment, Graziano
ran simulations of a distillation tower and participated in a commercial plant test that confirmed her
"A really incredible opportunity for a 19 year-old-student!
That program gave her
the opportunity to work for five semesters for the research and development department at Amoco Chemicals Company
Returning to Purdue
in order to complete a bachelor's of science degree in chemical engineering, she
applied for the Winston Churchill Scholarship, and then forgot about it during the intensity of senior-year studies.
"While studying for spring semester finals, I received a call from the Churchill Foundation
informing me that I had won the scholarship," Graziano
At the time, still deciding between job offers in industry and graduate school in the United States, she realized this incredible opportunity to study at the University of Cambridge in England could not be ignored.
"Coincidentally, the summer prior, I had backpacked in Europe, sat on the banks of the Cam River in Kings College
on an unusually sunny day, and joked with my friend that someday I would be back as a student," Graziano
During her scholarship year, she researched the rheology of liquid crystal polymers.
advisor, a faculty member new to the university, was seeking graduate students.
Together, they secured funding from Imperial Chemicals Inc.
to support the young American's doctorate research.
"Advanced degrees are important for careers in research and development," she
says and because she
co-op experiences so much, Graziano
decided to pursue her
doctorate degree to keep doors open for future work in research and development (R&D).
After graduating with her PhD from Cambridge, she returned to Amoco Chemicals and worked another ten years.
Following the birth of her
second child, Graziano
made the choice to switch from full-time to part-time work and also to pursue her
desire to conduct research focused to improve the environment.
Procuring a part-time position at Argonne National Laboratory, she worked for several years in materials and spent nuclear fuels recycling, conducting economic, design, market, and life cycle analysis studies.
When offered the opportunity to serve as the deputy director of the chemical engineering division at Argonne
took on the responsibility to co-lead a 200-plus employee division working in the diverse areas of catalysis, batteries, fuel cells, hydrogen, nuclear fuel reprocessing, radioactive waste management, and others important to energy and national security.
recent return to research, Graziano's
been able to combine her
interests in sustainability, the challenges of complexity, and expertise in chemical engineering to develop new programs for the Laboratory.
For example, an ineffective female tendency, one that I need to work hard to overcome, is the use of qualifiers when making a statement: 'Although I'm not an expert, I think...'or 'I may be wrong, but...' In my experience, however," Graziano
continues, "these subtleties are usually overcome and replaced with sincere respect for the individual's contributions and capabilities."
"I know that their insights have helped me make smarter choices," Graziano
They have also supported her
during difficult periods when her
doubts were silenced by their confidence in her
As a beneficiary of mentoring, she
has reached out to mentor others and has nurtured several co-mentoring relationships.
"I try not to give direct advice, but to serve more as a sounding board, providing encouragement, listening, and guiding them to discover their own solutions," she
As a participant in formal mentoring programs, she
finds informal opportunities easier to come by and more relaxed.
"My career has been shaped in unexpected ways by following my interests, taking advantage of opportunities, and seeking work-life balance," she
"Throughout, I was guided by my career goals to add substantive value to missions I enthusiastically support, to interact with talented people, to be challenged, and to take on responsibilities commensurate with my capabilities.
To date, the chemical engineer's career path has involved her
in projects at all stages of R&D
from concept to commercialization, covering a wide range of technologies and research areas with the opportunity to achieve as an individual contributor, team player, team leader, supervisor, and manager.
"With many career years ahead of me, I'm excited about the career path and possibilities still to come," Graziano