Aaron GrecoBy Katherine Obmascik • June 28, 2013
Materials Engineer Aaron Greco is the principal engineer investigating and working to improve the reliability of wind turbines in the tribology section of Argonne’s Energy Systems division.
What influenced your career path, leading you to work at Argonne?
After completing my undergrad at Iowa State University, I was awarded a student internship at Argonne through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships program. I became interested in tribology, an interdisciplinary field — mechanical, materials and chemical — with challenging problems. Interested in furthering my career in this field, I completed my PhD at Northwestern University and I applied for and was selected for a science and technology policy fellowship through the National Academies in Washington, D.C. I worked on technical reports supporting the new federal fuel economy standards. That experience helped me understand how energy policies are developed, what goes into informing the policymakers and the types of reports and technical advisement they receive. It was an eye-opening experience. After that, I came back to Argonne to do my postdoctoral work.
What is your role at the laboratory?
I am the project lead for the wind turbine drivetrain reliability research program. My group works on tribology (friction and lubrication), mostly for improving vehicle fuel efficiency. We are also looking for ways to mitigate premature bearing failures in wind turbines by investigating bearings that have failed in the field, simulating their operation with benchtop tests and looking at different materials and lubricant factors that can improve reliability of bearings.
What is exciting about your work?
Working on cutting-edge projects that have a broad impact for society. The project I’m working on has potential to improve the cost-effectiveness of renewable energy through the discovery and development of new technology. Working in the lab on these challenging technical issues is interesting. I also find it exciting to collaborate with organizations and couple research with real-world applications.
Whom do you collaborate with?
Industries. They include gearbox manufacturers, lubricant companies and bearing manufacturers, among others. Collaborations help us to understand technical issues that industry is experiencing and to transfer our work into application.
We also collaborate with academia, hosting student interns and performing joint research activities. This enables us to leverage capabilities outside the lab and provide students with valuable work experience.
What do you like best about Argonne?
Argonne is unique. It has an academic culture; people are interested in discovery, research and new technology. You get to work on exciting technology while working with researchers who are the best in their fields — they are passionate about their work. I am proud of where I work, and I feel fortunate to be a part of the lab and to work with such great people.
What kinds of mentoring opportunities have you experienced at Argonne?
Informally, my colleagues within my own group serve as mentors. They are approachable senior scientists who are helpful with technical and general questions about working at Argonne.
In 2010, as a postdoc at Argonne, I was formally assigned a mentor (Energy Systems Division Director Don Hillebrand). I was considering an opportunity to go to Washington, D.C., and work at DOE headquarters on a management and operations detail. The Wind and Water Power Technologies Office was looking for people with experience in drivetrain technologies, and it fit my background. Since Don had experience in D.C., he had valuable advice for me on how to navigate and make the best use of my time there. Given the difference between the work environments at headquarters and the lab, it was important to have a mentor who was both knowledgeable and approachable.
Working on the cutting edge, how do you balance your work and life?
I find that it happens naturally. I focus on my work and devote the time needed to complete it. At times, I’m consumed by my work and then I take a step back and rebalance myself. My day-to-day work has variety. I might be in the lab all week working on experiments, sectioning samples and doing metallography, or I might be at a conference or a meeting reporting to industrial collaborators, or meeting with our DOE sponsors. I use my bike commute to Argonne from Chicago to decompress and regain balance.
What advice do you have for people who are preparing for their careers?
It’s important to find something that you’re passionate about, while finding where your skills lie, and trying to match them.