February 1, 2024
Staff Accomplishment

National Academies Names Two from PNNL to New Voices in Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

Organization aims to expand diversity to address national, global challenges

Composite image of Karma Sawyer and Jim Yoon on a digital background.

Karma Sawyer, director of the Electricity Infrastructure and Buildings Division, and Jim Yoon, Earth scientist

(Composite image by Shannon Colson | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

Two Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) professionals have been selected to join the 2024–26 New Voices cohort at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Karma Sawyer, director of the Electricity Infrastructure and Buildings (EI&B) Division, and Jim Yoon, a water security and resilience scientist, are among 26 early- and mid-career professionals selected.

The New Voices program aims to expand the diversity of expertise engaged in the convening and advisory functions of the National Academies while building a network of emerging U.S. leaders to address national and global challenges.

‘An incredible opportunity’

Both Sawyer and Yoon described their selections as “an incredible opportunity.”

“When I review the biographies and experiences of the other members of the cohort, I’m both humbled and excited to have the opportunity to meet and work with them,” said Sawyer, who manages PNNL’s strategy to address the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) energy efficiency, clean energy and electricity infrastructure challenges. “This is a rare opportunity that provides room for, and even encourages, interdisciplinary, creative ideation with many fewer constraints than we typically encounter. I’m so excited.”

“The New Voices program affords me a platform like no other to bring to bear my research insights on modeling multi-sector systems to inform the national science-policy dialog on climate change impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation,” said Yoon. “The selection was also affirmation that the style of interdisciplinary, decision-relevant, societally oriented research I’ve dedicated my career to is being increasingly embraced and appreciated given the complexity of the climate and environmental challenges that the nation faces. I’m excited to meet and learn from my fellow cohort members.”

Members will develop their own projects

During their two-year term, Sawyer, Yoon, and their fellow New Voices members will engage in the advisory and convening work of the National Academies, develop their own interdisciplinary projects, and add to the building of a network of emerging STEM leaders across the U.S. and around the world.

The new cohort will be supported by an advisory committee of senior experts; elected members of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and National Academy of Medicine; and program alumni who are dedicated to the New Voices mission. Members of previous cohorts have served on over 21 National Academies committees and represented U.S. early-career STEM voices at more than 27 major international and domestic events.

Sawyer helps launch statewide grid reliability program

As EI&B director, Sawyer oversees a division with more than 400 staff members in six technical groups. She is part of a team responsible for shaping the Grid Center for Reliable Electricity Decarbonization, or GridCRED, a regional planning platform that will address a growing need for decision makers to understand and consider complexities like climate impacts, system behavior and affordability as we decarbonize the electricity sector.

“GridCRED will facilitate well-informed, collaborative interactions between researchers, regulators, communities and many others to accelerate the clean energy transition,” Sawyer said. 

Prior to joining PNNL, Sawyer served as the program manager for Emerging Technologies at DOE's Building Technologies Office. The National Academy of Engineering named her a Distinguished Gilbreth Speaker in 2023. She is also a disability rights advocate.

Shaping a better predictive model, with people in mind

Yoon is part of a leading research community that believes the central role of human behavior needs to be factored more significantly into earth and environmental systems modeling. The community of practice is called Multi-sector Dynamics.

“My involvement in the emerging Multi-sector Dynamics community of practice, from helping set its direction on the scientific steering group to conducting research at the forefront of coupled human–natural systems modeling, makes me most proud,” said Yoon. “I am helping shape the frontier of modeling research on the vulnerability, resilience, and sustainability of our multi-sector and critical infrastructure systems.”