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Yamali Hernandez, NIST Center for Neutron Research. (Editor’s note: Safety glasses are only required when the cryogenically cooled magnet is on. It was not on when this photo was taken. Safety first!)

Spotlight on Commerce: Yamali Hernandez, NIST Center for Neutron Research

Yamali Hernandez, Team Leader for User Services, NIST Center for Neutron Research

While writing this blog in celebration of National Hispanic Heritage month I had the opportunity to think about the importance of my job, my relationship with the people around me, but most important how my culture and values impact my daily life.

I am originally from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, located on the northwest side of the island. I consider myself very fortunate to have spent my childhood by a beautiful beach. Both of my parents showed extreme passion and perseverance in life, but it was my mother who was my inspiration for pursuing a quality education. She was the first in her family to attend university and then to pursue her graduate degree. Throughout my childhood, she provided me the tools and encouragement to expand my knowledge and to gain a strong skill set. It was her achievements and support that inspired me to study chemistry.

The determination and confidence that my mother helped me find is crucial to my job at the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) where I am proud to have worked for the past 17 years. The NCNR provides a measurement capability that is only available in one other place in the United States. The instrumentation at the NCNR, via our user program, allows 2,500 scientists a year to gain information about materials that would be difficult or impossible to obtain using other methods.

This equipment allows scientists to look inside materials with neutrons just like a doctor uses the X-rays from a CAT scan to look inside the body. Our users employ these measurement techniques to study a wide range of materials at the atomic and nano scales. These materials include plastics and paints, systems for carbon sequestration, and even biological systems to improve our understanding of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

As the team leader for user services, I help scientists from across the country and around the world learn about and get access to our facilities. I work with my team to ensure that our users have safe and well-equipped laboratories where they can prepare their samples and that visiting scientists have the specialized equipment necessary to study materials properties on the neutron instruments in a wide variety of environments such as high magnetic fields, various temperatures, and conditions relevant to manufacturing processes.

I always tell my team that our main responsibility is to make sure that our users collect the best possible data since it will translate to better materials. These materials provide the foundation for new innovation in the country — helping to “keep America open for business.”

As a Hispanic woman working in this field, it is important to me that all members of the community are engaged in the world of science and specifically the role of the NCNR. As the NCNR education and outreach coordinator, I promote our varied programs that are designated not only to demonstrate to young minds the unique materials we study, but also to teach and train graduate students in neutron measurement techniques. One of my main goals it to continue to develop programs that allow students and teachers of all levels access to cutting-edge scientific research. Through these initiatives, I hope to continue to diversify the scientific community within and beyond the NCNR and to stimulate future success and creativity in the field of science.

With the values my mother instilled on me, I realized that there is no prescribed recipe to be successful in life as a minority. However, there are common approaches that all successful people use; they work hard, they persevere, they take chances, they do not make excuses and most importantly they educate themselves and do not let ignorance dictate outcomes.

I hope in my roles as a team leader at the NCNR and as a Hispanic woman that I exemplify these traits while embodying the ideal that one’s contributions are shaped by their heritage. I believe that together we can fashion an inclusive scientific community that continues to amaze us.

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to the Open for Business Agenda.

Originally published at on October 5, 2016.

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