Hi. I’m Kelly Piacsek, General Manager, Global Technologies at GE Healthcare in Waukesha, WI. I have a wonderful husband (Tom) and three amazing and energetic children, Jackson (7), Lucas (5) and Reagan (2). We rely on each other and our amazing extended family to navigate school activities, sports schedules, birthdays, off-hour teleconferences, business travel and lots of surprises.
Families work together to make each other better, and my “work family” is no exception. Just as I couldn’t succeed in my job without help and encouragement from home, I am also blessed to have a GE team who understands my personal priorities as a mom and my desire to be present in those little moments that make life worth living. For me, flexibility is about being honest about your priorities so that team members, at work or at home, can support each other in what’s important. When you can achieve this, you really don’t have to choose.
As my family has grown, I have come to appreciate the value of great coaches. I have amazing people in my life who push me, encourage me and frequently lead me through life’s challenges. Having coaches who know my strengths and my struggles, and who celebrate my successes as their own, allows me to set priorities and hold myself accountable every day.
I encourage you to embrace those people in your life who make you better. The concept of “work-life balance” is somewhat elusive to me, but I believe we can achieve “harmony” when we work with people who truly care for one another. We have an important responsibility to set priorities, communicate them, and follow through on our commitments, both at home and at work. When you’re not sure what to do or how to do it, look around you – help is everywhere. You just have to ask.
There has been a lot in the news lately about improving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and how to engage kids today in STEM.
The White House started its own initiative to improve STEM education with Change the Equation. Many have predicted a STEM talent gap in the US and note the underrepresentation of women and minorities in STEM fields (women hold nearly half the jobs in the US, but account for less than 25% of all the STEM jobs).
At Global Research, one of the things that we do to help get kids excited about STEM is to share our experiences and passion with students from the surrounding areas by introducing them to our diverse careers as technologists. Last week we had such an opportunity with a very special group of students—our own children!
On Friday, May 3rd GE Global Research hosted our annual event Bring your Child to Work Day. I was excited to be able to participate this year with my 11- year old stepson Alex, and expose him to the many different types of STEM careers here at GE.
After visiting the photo booth and getting our picture with Thomas Edison, the day’s events kicked off with 300+ kids doing some early morning calisthenics. Next up GE materials scientist, Chris Dosch demonstrated some materials properties to the kids using balloons, racquetballs, and liquid nitrogen. I am pretty sure every kid in that room now knows the boiling point of liquid nitrogen (-321°F, in case you are wondering). We even took home a piece of shattered racquetball souvenir so Alex could show his friends and tell them all about the demo.
Some of the highlights from the day include:
- Watching a Makerbot 3D printer make GE monograms (another souvenir).
- A thermal image with IR camera of Alex (yet another souvenir).
- Watching the waterjet cut through pennies to make a smiley face. Did you know that the speed of the water jet is twice the speed of sound? I was told twice on the way home!
The best part of the day was watching how engaged Alex and the other kids were during the science demos. The words “that was the coolest thing I have ever seen” were uttered in leaving the CT demo (they were demonstrating CT slice technology on a piggy bank and a Darth Vadar Potato Head). For the older kids, there was even a STEM career round table where researchers at GE talked with students about what it is like to work in engineering/science at GE.
We live in a pretty rural area and this was really the first time Alex has ever been exposed to these kinds of science and computer demos. It was great for him to experience these technologies and learn about it from the technologists working in these areas. Maybe one day Alex will be designing the next CT machine or developing the next generation advanced manufacturing technology. Or maybe he will be a fireman like he says. Either way, it was refreshing to see his excitement around our technology and I hope that this experience will help him understand why I am so passionate about my career in STEM!
Check out the video below to hear from some of the little scientists that attended Take Your Child To Work Day!
While certainly not applicable to all Moms, I think many of us in deeply technical fields share a common experience of trying to explain to our Mom what someone pays us to do. As a mother’s love is unconditional, I’m sure no matter what we tell them; there will be a streak of pride. But as scientists and engineers, we are obsessed with precision and accuracy and love recognition. So when Mom poses an inescapable question, like “so what exactly is Cloud Computing?”, we are left with no choice but to tap into the right side of our left-skewed brains—and get creative.
Reaching Mom Tactic: Analogies
“Sweater, n.: garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.” – Ambrose Bierce
The whole point of an analogy is to explain something new by comparing it to something known. The trouble with analogies is they are inherently imperfect and can lead to incorrectly assuming properties of the known also apply to the new. Additionally, the known may be so comfortable to the audience (your Mom) that it superimposes itself on what you do.
Cutting Computing Architectures Down to Size
As part of my job, I regularly talk about advances in computer technology – most notably processors and computers built with multitudes of processors. But why is this hard? Can’t you just buy “the best” processor from Intel or IBM or NVIDIA? The challenge is the myriad of different problems we try to solve with a computing platform – mapped to a complex universe of possible solutions across combinations of hardware and software choices.
After many flawed analogies, the simplest I’ve come to employ is yard work. Many of our Moms assigned yard work chores while we were growing up. On any given Saturday, two tasks I may have performed were mowing the lawn and cutting down an old tree. Abstractly, these are the same task: employ a machine to sever plant material.
I was willing to spend more time, care, and fuel on the tree task than a single blade of grass. Thus, a chainsaw is the tool of choice for the job. But to cut the lawn with a chainsaw would result in poor quality, wasted time and fuel, and perhaps cause the neighbors to hide behind shuttered windows! Similarly, while a mower is time-efficient at cutting grass (a very large number of blades of grass cut simultaneously in a “massively parallel” process), it lacks the capability to chop down a tree.
So what do Computer Architecture and yard work have in common? You need to understand the variety of tools, particularly as new ones are invented, and then properly select and apply them to the required task. The risk is overhearing Mom then repeat: “He is a computer gardener” – but the payoff is eerily lucent: “He is trying to invent a lawnmower that works on forests. But it’s really computers and data.”
Putting Cloud Computing Through the Wringer
The buzz around “Cloud Computing” is so pervasive, even Mom asks what’s the big deal. My favorite analogy first appeared in Christofer Hoff’s Rational Survivability blog: Laundry. You have a home computer for data. You have a home washer /dryer for clothes. They are designed to carry a workload proportional to expected historic use at a point of need. There is a clear value in knowing your washer is available and that the intimates you put in it stay in the house. But you had to purchase the washer and dryer, make an informed choice in doing so, and you expect it to work for many years. Most likely you do not employ all of its features and over that time do not benefit from advances in washer/dryer technology improvements.
Now suppose you host a family reunion and suddenly the demand for clothes washing spikes, either you can inefficiently employ your domestic appliances or load up baskets and either drive to a Laundromat (Infrastructure-as-a-Service/IaaS) or have these picked up by a Laundry Service (Software-as-a-Service/SaaS). The advantages here include: someone with more expertise than yourself selected the appliances, purchased them, maintains them, and you only pay when you use them – for the small part of their life you use. Because their purpose is to serve a market of users (multitenancy) there is a much larger capacity collectively (and perhaps even individually) than at home.
So rather than running 8 loads one after another, you can stuff 4 larger machines at once and complete the task in 1/8th of the time. If a laundry service, you even benefit from their expertise in operating the machines and using detergents, and offloading the labor involved in the process from dirty to wash to dry to fold.
However – there are some inconveniences and risks. You need to be able to pay at time of service (perhaps with a bucket of quarters), you incur a delay in the movement of your clothes to and from these machines, others are using the machines, so it’s possible you may need to wait or that your intimates may be seen by others if care is not taken, or you may even lose something in the process.
There are many flaws to this model – it is incomplete, exaggerates some aspects, and clothes are not digital (yet) so cannot be replicated or transmitted (like a virtual closet). But as a canonical task often lovingly delegated to Mom (particularly in the college years), laundry is a familiar experience from which to discuss “The Cloud.” This analogy is also ironic and potentially confusing on two fronts: One, GE obviously manufactures actual washers/dryers, and two, GE Aviation builds computers for aircraft that literally operate in the clouds.
There is a clear benefit to this exercise, no matter how tedious or seemingly futile. We, as passionate practitioners of engineering and science, directly benefit from being able to clearly communicate our work to non-technical people. We need the ability to describe how our work is important to our employer and customers, what we actually do, and why it is challenging. The fact that our Mom wants to get the low down on our highly technical job, and has the patience to listen is actually a gift and great practice.
I lead a Computing lab that frequently collaborates with Mechanical Engineers, Physicists, Biologists, Chemists, etc., so it’s not unusual that a courageously asked naïve question actually leads to a novel approach at problem-solving. Our discussion with Mom becomes an “outside” viewpoint that forces us to think about a technical problem from a radically different angle. These outside viewpoints can lead to insights and connect us with new colleagues (which should please Mom as she always wants you to make new friends.)
At Your Mother’s Knee
One of the greatest gifts of Mothers is a strong foundation from which we build everything we become. While our technical skills may not have come from Mom, we can thank her for fostering us being curious, observant, disciplined, and patient. To then reach into the darkness where nobody has before imagined, taking the calculated risks needed to reap great reward – we are ever-armed with the confidence, the safe harbor, and the encouragement of our Mothers. Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms out there and I hope your day is spent on a cloud that needs no explanation — cloud nine.
“No one in the world can take the place of your mother.
Right or wrong, from her viewpoint you are always right.
She may scold you for little things, but never for the big ones.” – Harry Truman
In an office lined with miniature trees sits an environmental engineer, known for her passion and expertise. Earth Day is Angela’s favorite time of the year, a chance for her to connect with a group that’s so hopeful and sincere. This group is filled with folks around four feet in height, who have wide-open eyes, witnessing a world filled with light. Just like the Lorax, who speaks for the trees, these little kids truly care that our grass remains green and pollution stays out of our water and air.
Angela Fisher is an environmental engineer in the Environmental Technology Lab at Global Research where she works on the ecoassessment center of excellence team. The team focuses on GE’s environmental initiatives. Each year on Earth Day, she makes it her personal mission to share her environmental expertise andpassion for the environment with a group of elementary school children whom she describes as optimistic, innocent and enthusiastic.
Angela kicks off the annual day reading a story to the kids. She often selects one of her favorites, The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. In the book, the Lorax (the tree hugger) leaves the Once-ler (the tree mugger) with a stone inscribed with the word, “unless.”
After years of pondering the meaning behind this simple word, the Once-ler finally understood it when a young boy came to plant a tree in the severely polluted environment that was once a beautiful, pristine valley. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not,” the Once-ler told the boy.
Angela said she felt energized after spending her day with young, first-grade minds who really care about the environment and left the school that day feeling confident that this generation will take a stand for our planet.
Throughout the day, Angela and the kids brainstormed things they could do, such as reusing the other side of a paper when drawing a picture and turning off the overhead lights, leaving a just a tiny nightlight on when going bed. “These are their ideas. I give them some starting points, and then they just keep feeding off of each other,” Angela said.
The little Loraxes really impressed Angela when they started talking about the topic of endangered species. The kids knew about the California condor and how there are so few left in the wild and how polar bears’ habitats are shrinking.
A highlight of Angela’s day came when they were discussing recycling. “I said to them, what happens to a piece of paper when you recycle it?” “Well it becomes a new piece of paper,” they replied. “And what happens when that piece is recycled?” Angela asked. “It just keeps becoming new and new paper every time!” “They’re so smart. They get it,” Angela said.
Not only does Angela “speak for the trees,” she acts for them too. “With a family of four (two being young children) we committed to creating less waste by downsizing to a little trashcan for our household. The kids understand that trash doesn’t just disappear once you throw it away!”
The family has four times the amount of recycling as they do trash each week. They reduce or reuse as much as possible and maintain a compost pile for their fruit peels, veggie scraps, and coffee grounds. As a family, they consciously strive to ‘tread lightly’ on their journey through life.
Back at the Research Center, her passion and commitment radiates down the halls where she evaluates the way GE creates, uses and disposes of products and finds ways to minimize resource consumption and environmental emissions to our planet. But whether at work, in a classroom or at home, she embodies the message that if we all think and act in a conscious way, and everyone speaks for the trees, our planet can be the healthy place it is intended to be.
NISKAYUNA, NY, May 6, 2013 – GE Global Research, the technology development arm of the General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) is honored to announce that Dr. E. Trifon Laskaris, Chief Engineer and pioneer in imaging technologies, has been awarded his 200th U.S. patent – a milestone previously reached by only one other GE research lab employee, Thomas Edison.
“This is an amazing, but not at all unexpected accomplishment,” said Mark Little, GE Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer. “Trifon’s work speaks for itself. Without his decades of dedicated research into superconducting magnets, MRI technology would not be where it is today – a mainstay of hospitals around the world. I congratulate Trifon on this milestone not only in his career, but for GE as a whole.”
Laskaris began his career with GE in 1967 after earning his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. He joined GE Global Research in 1973 to conduct research into superconducting generator technology. Then, beginning in 1982, and for the next 20 years, Laskaris would do some of his most ground-breaking work directing research activities that resulted in prototypes for the superconducting magnets at the heart of GE’s world-class MRI systems. His team’s prototype designs and technologies are the basis for the hundreds of 1.5T Signa magnets produced annually at GE’s magnet factory in Florence, S.C.
From there, Laskaris turned to the development of a succession of increasingly sophisticated, higher and higher field magnets for open MRI systems. These addressed the issue of claustrophobia and, more importantly, permited surgeons to have access to patients while they are being scanned, in order to provide image guided interventional procedures. His research led to production of the Signa Open Speed MRI – the highest-field open MRI system on the market today.
Currently, Laskaris is leading the technology development of next generation MRI magnets. These magnets will revolutionize access to MRI while significantly reducing cost of ownership. The end result will be greater access to cost-efficient, quality healthcare for more people living in underserved areas.
Laskaris has been involved in virtually every critical milestone in MRI technology at GE, either personally developing or directing the development of the magnets which are so crucial to these imaging devices. From GE’s first MRI system to a series of increasingly sophisticated ones, both open and closed, the higher field strengths Laskaris’s magnets enable are the key to improved image quality and, therefore, better diagnosis.
Laskaris has also made pioneering contributions in the development of superconducting rotating machines for power generation. They include a 20-MVA utility-type generator, the first to produce full power, and a 20-MW high-power-density generator for the U.S. Air Force. His ongoing research is expected to enable power generation systems that are more compact and more efficient to operate.
“I feel honored and privileged to have had the opportunity to spend the last 46 years of my life working at GE, on research that is truly making a difference in people’s lives,” said Laskaris. “This is a goal that I really never set out to reach and I certainly couldn’t have done it without the support and efforts of so many of my colleagues. It’s gratifying to know that, collectively, our years of research have taken medical imaging to new heights.”
Aside from earning 200 patents, Laskaris has also received several other awards and accolades over the course of his career. In 2004, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), one of the most prestigious honors bestowed upon an engineer. He’s also the recipient of three awards from GE Global Research: a Whitney Technical Achievement Award in 1994, presented to a team that has developed exceptional technology that’s not yet commercialized, but is viewed as a potential market game-changer, for Signa SP MRI Magnet; a Coolidge Fellowship Award in 1998, the highest research achievement granted to an individual within GE Global Research; and a Dushman Award in 2002, granted to a team that has developed exceptional technology that has been commercialized, for Signa Open Speed MRI.
Laskaris has authored more than 60 refereed journals, conference proceedings and other publications. In addition to being a member of the National Academy of Engineering, he also belongs to the Greek Chamber of Engineers.
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