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Feature Story | Argonne National Laboratory

Alyssa Kody is helping develop a low-carbon power grid

The Argonne Fellow describes how she’s working to lower carbon emissions and increase resiliency in power systems

Moving toward a low-carbon power grid requires better algorithms, says the Maria Goeppert Mayer Fellow.

Transitioning to a low-carbon power grid is an essential piece of addressing climate change, while still meeting energy needs. During her Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the University of Michigan, Alyssa Kody developed control systems for energy harvesting devices. In 2022, she joined the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory as a Maria Goeppert Mayer Fellow to develop algorithms to improve the efficiency and performance of power grids and make electric infrastructure more resilient.

The Maria Goeppert Mayer Fellowship is an international award given to outstanding doctoral scientists and engineers to help them develop their careers in Argonne’s high-impact research environment. The Fellowship honors Maria Goeppert Mayer, a theoretical physicist who earned the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963 for her work at Argonne proposing a mathematical model for the structure of nuclear shells in the atomic nucleus. The Fellowship provides early-career scientists the opportunity to pursue their own research directions, with the support of a sponsor and up to three years of funding. Kody discusses her research on power grid algorithms and how the Fellowship has contributed to her career development.

Q: What is your research focus at Argonne?

A: The overarching goal of my research is to aid in the global transition of low-carbon power grids and increase the resilience of our electric infrastructure to extreme weather events. My research at Argonne focuses on developing algorithms to intelligently plan and operate our power systems. Specifically, a portion of my work aims to incorporate machine learning techniques into algorithms for existing power systems to enhance their efficiency and performance.

Q: What are some of the broader impacts of your work?

A: Some of my research focuses on reducing the risk posed by power grids to ignite wildfires. Electric power infrastructures can ignite wildfires in a variety of ways, including vegetation contact, downed power lines and electrical arcing. Areas with high wildfire risk, like the Western U.S., have recently experienced destructive and deadly wildfires ignited by power lines. I work on algorithms that can determine where and what kind of operational actions or infrastructure investments, such as de-energizing power lines or undergrounded power lines, can help reduce ignition risk while minimizing negative impacts to customers.

Q: What inspired you to apply for the Maria Goeppert Mayer Fellowship?

A: After finishing my Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the University of Michigan, I was interested in pursuing a postdoc at a national lab. I spent a summer working with a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory while I was a graduate student, and greatly enjoyed my experience. I was familiar with the power and energy research at Argonne, and after hearing about the Maria Goeppert Mayer Fellowship, I decided to apply.

Q: What resources has the Fellowship provided you?

A: The main resource it has provided me is time to pursue new research ideas. For me, this means working on projects at the intersection of machine learning and power systems, as well as projects related to wildfire risk mitigation in power grids. The Fellowship also provides funds for travel, which allowed me to present my work at various conferences and meet other researchers at national labs and universities working on similar topics.

Q: How has the Fellowship contributed to your career development?

A: The Maria Goeppert Mayer Fellowship is a great career development opportunity for early-stage researchers. The Fellowship has helped me cultivate new research ideas and bring together collaborators and students to work on projects together. As a Fellow, I gained a better understanding of how to develop projects, manage research funds and grow research ideas into larger projects and collaborations. I greatly appreciate the support that the Maria Goeppert Mayer Fellowship has provided me over the past three years.

Q: What do you like about working at Argonne?

A: One of the best aspects of working at Argonne is having access to colleagues who are experts in various science and engineering fields. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn from researchers in my own division, Energy Systems and Infrastructure Analysis, as well as other divisions. It is always exciting to hear about the impactful research going on across the lab!

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

A: Outside of research, I enjoy spending time outdoors. A few of my favorite activities are trail running, biking and cross-country skiing. Some places near Argonne that are great for these activities are the Palos Trail System for running, the Lakefront Trail in Chicago for biking and the Greenbush Trail System in Wisconsin for cross-country skiing.

Q: What advice do you have for others who want to follow your career path?

A: Reach out to people working on projects in your area of interest either at conferences or over email. I have found that Argonne researchers are very enthusiastic about talking with students and early-career researchers, so do not be intimidated! There are opportunities at various education stages to get involved in research at Argonne or the other national labs. For example, I encourage undergraduate students to apply for the Summer Undergraduate Laboratory Internship program and graduate students to inquire about collaborations or summer internship opportunities. Postdocs can apply for Fellowships, like the Maria Goeppert Mayer or Walter Massey Fellowships at Argonne.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology by conducting leading-edge basic and applied research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.