Argonne National Laboratory

Emily Shemon

By Kathryn E. JandeskaMay 31, 2013

Nuclear Engineer Emily Shemon joined Argonne in 2011. She divides her time between Argonne’s Nuclear Engineering division and the Leadership Computing Facility, where she works as a catalyst.

What brought you to Argonne?

My first U.S. national lab experience was a summer internship at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where I was exposed to high-level research problems. Part of my project was to write a small Monte Carlo code to simulate neutron transport. It was fascinating to realize that I could write a computer code that simulates physics. That work experience inspired me to specialize in computational nuclear engineering.

In the summer of 2006, I interned here at Argonne, working with the Neutronics Methods and Codes Section, the group I’m currently working in now. I knew this was a place I could see myself working long-term. I wanted to be in a research environment, in a national lab. Argonne’s team was doing some cutting-edge work on simulation tools for high-performance computing. The people here are really knowledgeable and great to work with. I’ve been embraced as an important and valued member of the team.

What inspired you to choose the field of work you’re in?

In college at the University of Michigan, I signed up for a nuclear engineering course upon an engineering professor’s recommendation. I hadn’t yet decided my engineering major. In that class, my professor discussed a recent terrorist incident of anthrax sent through the mail. He told our class that mail could be irradiated in order to prevent biological weapons from making their way to government offices. I thought, “Wow, I never knew there was a technology like this. It’s really interesting that irradiation can damage certain materials [the anthrax] yet keep the mail itself intact.” In that class, we learned about the many applications of nuclear energy and radiation, and I knew this was what I wanted to study. I had excellent professors and mentors who encouraged me to continue on to graduate school as well.

How would you describe your work?

All of my activities are geared towards supporting, maintaining and developing Argonne’s neutronics tools — the computational tools used to simulate the physics inside a nuclear reactor, specifically neutron transport.

What’s the most exciting thing about the work you do?

Running simulations on the supercomputer is pretty exciting. The supercomputer is a very limited resource. Only a handful of people in the world have access to it. I was really lucky to get involved with the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility and have the opportunity to learn more about high-performance computing.

What sorts of Argonne-sponsored activities do you participate in?

I’m involved in two of Argonne’s mentoring events for young women: Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day and Science Careers in Search of Women. These events are educational, fun, and it’s very inspiring for me to talk to enthusiastic young students. 

What advice would you give to students?

The first thing to know is that you can be a scientist or engineer. Begin preparing yourself in high school by taking as many math and science courses as you can. I also recommend taking a course in computer science or computer programming if your school offers it. In my opinion, the earlier students know that science or engineering is a realistic career possibility, the more likely they will realistically consider it in high school and college.

What kind of work-life balance do you have?

I have good work-life balance. I spend my workday devoted to my work, and when I go home, I’m able to have a life outside work. I used to play soccer, so I’m looking to join a women’s soccer team in the Chicago suburbs. I also like to go running, and I love to cook simple, classic dishes. Also, my fiancé and I are planning an October wedding, so at the moment, wedding planning is my number-one extracurricular activity!

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