This article is part of a series featuring Q&As with Ralph O’Connor Sustainable Energy Institute (ROSEI)-affiliated researchers. Next up is Julie Lundquist, who was recently announced as a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Studies and the Department of Mechanical Engineering. She will also serve as a ROSEI core faculty member and officially starts at Hopkins on July 1.

How did you first get involved with or learn about sustainability?

Julie Lundquist

Julie Lundquist (JL): My interests in sustainability, beyond the typical “reduce, reuse, recycle” that was popular with my cohort in college, started growing in graduate school. I was studying atmospheric science, looking at simulations of the lower part of the atmosphere, and I thought “Maybe I can do something with this related to wind energy.” I reached out to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) about it and, unfortunately, there wasn’t a spot for an atmospheric scientist like me to work at NREL at the time.

I then moved to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as a postdoc, and my work focused on transport and dispersion modeling. Essentially, when nasty stuff gets into the atmosphere either accidentally or on purpose, we were the people who figured out where it was going to go to help plan emergency response. I had skills that I thought were transferrable to other areas, so, when Henrik Stiesdal (a wind turbine innovator from Denmark) came to my lab looking for ways to collaborate, I immediately told him that I have this set of skills that I’d love to put towards wind energy. This was in 2007, and wind energy has become a larger and larger part of my research as time has passed.

Why are you passionate about sustainability/renewable energy?

JL: I am passionate about sustainability because it’s a fundamental challenge for humanity’s survival. These are crucial problems that we are trying to solve. Climate change affects people globally: unless we come up with ways to provide electricity and a high quality of life to everyone, without releasing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we won’t reach our social justice and equity goals. We must be able to do that.

To motivate myself, I need to feel like what I do is important and that it will make a positive impact on others. I try to discern what pursuits in this field are fundamentally important and other parts that may be fun from an intellectual perspective but are not as consequential.

How does your commitment to sustainability play out in your everyday life?

JL: I am a big fan of bike commuting. At my previous job at the University of Colorado Boulder, I only drove to campus when the conditions were too icy. We were early adopters of the Toyota Prius, buying one in 2004 and driving it until now (and it only has 125K miles now, 20 years later, including several summer roadtrips across the county!).

We also installed solar panels on our house in Colorado several years ago and removed our natural gas stove and switched to an induction stove. That wasn’t our only foray into installing solar panels – we helped install solar panels at our church in Colorado by mentoring a group of middle-school students in their fundraising campaign and negotiations with the solar installation company. We also helped them monitor the panels to ensure that we not only saved money for the church but greatly reduced the church’s carbon footprint as well. With the same group of kids, we also set up a recycling/composting campaign there that was very successful.

We just bought a plug-in hybrid for our move to Baltimore and our choice of apartment was partially dictated by where we could charge at home and where we were on the Charm City Circulator to ride to campus.

Tell us about your research, and what aspects currently or in the future tie into sustainable energy efforts.

JL: A lot of the work I do is focused on wind energy—specifically how wind energy and the atmosphere interact. There are things that we need to be concerned about in terms of how a large group of wind turbines—also known as windfarms—affects their local environment, especially from a meteorological perspective. I work on problems in areas such as temperature and wind speed changes, as well as how the atmosphere affects wind energy productivity.

How can we make windfarms more productive in general? If we are going to invest in these windfarms, let’s make them as productive as possible and predict how much electricity they will be able to generate so the power grid can be prepared for it. We also look at how extreme conditions, like hurricanes, might impact wind farms. Generally, what I research is atmosphere and wind energy interactions.

Is there an article, book, or podcast you recommend to help people better understand your work?

JL: This is from a few years ago, but you can check out my appearance on NPR’s Science Friday to learn more about my research concerning wake effect and the challenges of planning wind farm locations in a competitive market. More recently, I gave a talk that is now on YouTube that focused on assessing risk to offshore wind turbines using large-eddy simulations of hurricanes.

What advice or suggestions would you offer students who want to pursue careers in sustainable energy?

JL: Always look for new opportunities and ask questions. Research is hard, but if you find something that you are excited about, many hard things become so much easier because you are motivated and passionate. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes on your route to finding success. And if you wonder, “should I try A or B”, the answer is probably “both” – just try them and see what you learn.

Also, try to find collaborators who are, first, kind people, but also compelling and can articulate why they are pursuing what they are doing in sustainability. It’s important that they can show what progress they make not just on the technical problems but also in mentoring people coming after us who will also be creative and kind. It’s vital to find people with whom your joy in the process can be shared.

Why did you choose to join the Hopkins sustainable energy community?

JL: There are great collaborators— some truly incredible people who are accomplished and fun to work with—in the Hopkins sustainable energy community.

It’s important to me that people treat their students and collaborators well, which I felt was emphasized strongly during my visits to Hopkins. I prefer working in environments with a meaningful mission at the forefront of our minds, while also fostering a strong, supportive network to help everyone progress. I got that sense from Hopkins: Important work is being done, but in a supportive and caring environment. That is extremely important to me.