AFRL joins New Mexico national labs in postdoc speech competition

  • Published
  • By Jeanne Dailey
  • Air Force Research Laboratory
The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, collaborated with Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the New Mexico Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, to conduct a postdoctoral, or postdoc, Ted Talk-style speech competition called the Rio Grande Research SLAM, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Nov. 5, 2022. 

The SLAM spotlighted the research performed in New Mexico by the next generation of scientists. Each organization, including AFRL’s Directed Energy and Space Vehicles Directorates, chose three postdoctoral researchers to present three-minute science talks that a general audience would be able to understand.

Dr. Andreas Schmitt-Sody, the AFRL Directed Energy Directorate deputy chief scientist and Sara Telano, acting chief of the AFRL Technology Outreach Office, led the AFRL preparations and were instrumental in the event planning and execution.    
“The SLAM provided a great networking and coaching opportunity for our AFRL postdocs,” Schmitt-Sody said. “In addition, it was an excellent venue to recruit more science and engineering talent to AFRL. Sandia and Los Alamos labs are always associated with New Mexico everyone knows them. This event can be seen as advertisement that there is "another" laboratory here in New Mexico.”
Charles Lewandowski, a postdoc physicist from the AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate, who spoke on “300 Years of Studying Gravity” gave the event high marks.
“The SLAM was very professionally run and exciting,” Lewandowski said. “Anyone could have enjoyed the talks and been able to understand them, which is great for bringing in interest to STEM fields. Additionally, I appreciated that the event allowed for valuable networking opportunities.”
Dr. Tracie Durbin, the Sandia National Labs postdoctoral research program office lead, originated the idea for a New Mexico regional event, and patterned it after a 2021 competition organized by the four San Francisco Bay Area Department of Energy Labs.
“This event was an excellent way to showcase research in the state of New Mexico and highlight the accomplishments of our early career employees,” Durbin said. “It allowed us to partner across research institutions and provide professional development opportunities to our postdocs during the internal competitions, and then prepare them for the multi-institution competition.”
A panel of five judges from the participating organizations and the New Mexico legislature selected the first, second and third place winners and an overall lab winner. The live and virtual audience composed of more than 200 attendees voted on a People’s Choice Award.

 The overall lab winner was Los Alamos National Lab. Tessily Hogancamp of Sandia National Labs won first place, Kristina Meier of Los Alamos National Lab second place and Simeon Gilbert from Sandia National Labs third place. Kristina Meier won the People’s Choice Award. 

Hogancamp, a Sandia National Labs chemist who performs research at the Agile BioFoundry consortium, said the SLAM was a big success and she appreciated the many sessions to help the competitors prepare.
“The actual competition was nerve-racking as I hadn’t spoken in front of a live audience since my doctoral defense in 2019,” Hogancamp said. “I’m honored to represent the passionate work on yeast engineering for biomanufacturing and its potential to produce sustainable jet fuel.”
The winners shared the stage with their postdoctoral colleagues Christopher Allemang of Sandia, Mary O’Brien and Aaron Patel of Los Alamos, Sisay Arzo, Sijo Augustine and Maryanne Long from Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research and Charles Lewandowski, Bryan Long and Christopher Pieronek from AFRL.
Schmitt-Sody said initial talks have already begun to make the SLAM an annual event.

About AFRL 
The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit: