Berkeley Lab

Rui Zhang: Doing Science With Four Team Members, Four Nationalities

RuiZhangI came to the U.S. from China in 2006 and entered the University of Houston for my Ph.D. in geophysics, which I completed in 2010. Then I did a postdoc at UT Austin for two years and joined Berkeley Lab in February of 2013.

My current project is mainly the National Risk Assessment Partnership (NRAP) to study the security issue of CO2 storage in the subsurface. My task is to study whether injecting CO2 into the subsurface could cause an earthquake. There are three senior scientists on my team. I’m the only young guy. Only one is American, another is a British guy, one a French guy, and me, a Chinese guy.

It’s very strange to have four people from four countries. It’s my first experience to cooperate with people from so many countries, working on the same project, speaking a different English. It’s very interesting.

In Texas I mostly worked by myself and did not have much communication with other researchers. But in Berkeley we have frequent communications and meetings. I benefit a lot from this communication. We all have different expertise, and we can exchange our knowledge between each other. I feel that’s one of the amazing things about Berkeley Lab—different people bring different philosophies of scientific research.

For example, some are interested in the theoretical parts, some more in the practical parts. We have to get some results, and we also need to develop some new theories. We have very friendly conflicts about how to solve this scientific problem. We have different opinions every time. It’s good to learn what other people think about these scientific questions. People always think subjectively by themselves, but if you learn what others think, it can inspire my thinking.

The NRAP project includes five national labs. We have monthly teleconferences to report on the progress of the project. All this communication is very new for me. I didn’t have much before when I was in Texas. It’s a very helpful way of doing science, to get the high-level view of the scientific research. I was only getting the low-level view of my own research; I didn’t know the whole view of this scientific problem. You can get this only by hearing from other experts, other national labs. It’s very good.

There are differences of nationality and culture on my team. But I’m learning a lot. All the other team members are very senior. Sometimes I want them to give me a direct and clear description of the task I need to do. But the senior guys sometimes talk and discuss about more abstract ideas of this scientific problem. They are not that clear about what to do, step by step, because this is new scientific research. That’s why we do the research together, discuss together.

-Rui Zhang, Postdoctoral Fellow, Earth Sciences Division

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