STEM Professional of the week

J. Alexandra Hakala, Ph.D.      
U.S. Department of Energy

Geochemist, Geosciences Division, Office of Research and Development
National Energy Technology Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy

In just four years since completing her doctorate, Dr. J. Alexandra Hakala has accomplished more than many seasoned researchers. She is an integral part of a research team conducting cutting-edge and environmentally relevant research in pursuit of a clean, safe, and an energy independent future for the United Sates. She works with multidisciplinary teams at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and collaborates with researchers from the NETL-Regional University Alliance, related national laboratories, and other government agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

As a physical scientist, Dr. Hakala has already impacted the areas of groundwater chemistry, carbon capture, utilization and storage, and shale gas development. Her expertise in environmental geochemistry has improved our understand of the mobility of metals, including toxic metals, in ground water systems and will help us address issues such as the effects of industrial activity on groundwater quality and our potential to store carbon dioxide safely underground as a mitigation option for climate change.

As the principal investigator for Fluid-Rock-Shale-Microbial Interactions project, Dr. Hakala leads a multidisciplinary team studying the key biogeochemical controls on the release of contaminants and natural geochemical tracers from shale gas formations. The knowledge gained from this research could lead to developing computational models for predicting potential risks associated with shale gas development, thereby enhancing our ability to safely tap into our abundant domestic gas shale reservoirs. Because of her success in the area of shale research, Dr. Hakala was recently appointed to be one of three U.S. Department of Energy representatives to an Interagency Oil and Gas Technical Subcommittee chartered to define a federal research plan that will provide information necessary to ensure sustainable access to the nation’s natural gas resources.

In addition to her work for NETL, Dr. Hakala is an adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Geology and Planetary Science at the University of Pittsburgh where she mentors several graduate students. A gifted communicator, Dr. Hakala values sharing her research with a wider audience. Her nine published papers, and four works in progress – as well as 39 conference presentations – have significantly invigorated the global conversation on energy research. Dr. Hakala is a graduate of Princeton University where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree cum laude in geosciences. She earned her Ph.D. in Geological Sciences from Ohio State University.

Dr. Hakala’s cultural heritage is rich in its diversity. Her mother is Puerto Rican and Latvian and she grew up in the Latvian community that immigrated to Venezuela. Dr. Hakala grew up fluent in Spanish and lived in Santiago, Chile for two years. The experience of living near the Andes Mountains inspired her passion for snowboarding and nurtured her love of geology. For the past year, she has competed at the amateur level in snowboard cross, finished as the Appalachian Series champion, and ranked fourth in the U.S. in her age group for women.

Dr. J. Alexandra Hakala is the 2012 HENAAC Award winner in Outstanding Technical Achievement – National Labs.

Article is from the 2012 TECHNiCA Magazine.

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