Grant Williamson, Ph.D. student, Molecular Engineering
- Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering, University of Washington
- Instrumentation and Controls Engineer, General Electric
Grant Williamson is bent on making the world a little greener. Through scientific research and his work in the public sphere, he’s championing clean energy and being recognized for it: he was recently named to the Husky 100, which honors exceptional students.
Grant became interested in science research and communication while working in industrial wastewater management. Working in the field, he realized the important role technology plays in developing policy, and visa versa. From there, he was inspired to return to school to pursue clean energy research and science policy, two areas where he knew he could have a big impact.
As someone with a goal of making a public impact, the UW was a clear choice for graduate school, Grant says. During his time as an undergraduate student, “UW professors were consistently encouraging an involvement both inside and outside of school — in activities that would make a difference right now,” he says. A focus on public impact is “part of the culture of the university.”
In the Holmberg Research Group, Grant develops new materials for high-capacity batteries — the kind that could eventually be used to power electric cars. He’s most interested in how to make high-capacity batteries charge more quickly, as faster-charging batteries could allow for electric cars that function the same as gas vehicles but have zero emissions. He’s excited to work on this research, supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, because it could have a major impact in making the transition to electric vehicles smoother for consumers.
Outside the lab, Grant is still thinking and talking about clean energy, but with a different audience. He’s involved with the Climate Caucus Speaker’s Bureau, which facilitates lectures for unions on climate change and clean energy. The goal is to provide unions with information that stimulates discussion and informs their decisions on where to stand on climate-related policies.
As a senator for the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, he worked with the Science Policy committee to teach graduate students to write policy briefs known as “white papers.”
In a day-long workshop, graduate students learned the process for writing a white paper and practiced writing them in groups. But the benefit of writing the white papers goes beyond learning how to write one, Grant says; it’s also a good way to practice discussing science and technology so it’s easy for the public to understand. And when the public is informed about scientific research, it facilitates better climate and clean energy policy.
Grant points out that while public engagement for scientists is beneficial for society, it’s also beneficial for the graduate student, as well — especially when it comes to understanding the potential policy implications of their research. For Grant, engaging with the public during the research process helps him consider his work in a new light, and ultimately can shape and inform the research.
There are also more immediate rewards to the grad student who engages with a public audience. While research progress can be slow, “getting out of the lab can be really inspiring,” Grant says, “because you’re making an immediate difference based on your work.”