Every week I post a quick Q&A with one of our bloggers on the network, so you can get to know them better. This week, I chat with Melissa Lott of Plugged In.
Hello! Let's start with first things first. What is the name of your blog and why did you choose that name - what does it mean?
My blog is called Plugged In and I write there with David (Wogan), Robynne (Boyd), and Scott (Huler). I enjoy being part of a group blog because we each look at topics from different perspectives and backgrounds, which makes for a diverse and interesting group of posts.
We each had different reasons behind choosing “Plugged In” for the name of our blog from our list of contenders. For me, this blog is about being more connected to our energy systems. What they do for us, and their impact on our environment. In my posts, I explore topics at the connection points between energy, the environment, policy, and economics to better understand the role of energy in our lives.
A quick story – We had each been bouncing around potential names for a couple of weeks without much luck. Then, over lunch with my family at my favorite TexMex restaurant, I had one of those “eureka!” moments when “Plugged In” popped into my head. I immediately e-mailed the group from my iPhone to see what they thought. It got 4 “thumbs up.” I now say that I should always eat TexMex before I write. Fajitas are inspirational.
Where does the artwork for your banner come from, and what are you trying to convey with it?
Our banner was created by Matt Mangum, who David and I have known for about 4 years through our work at The University of Texas at Austin. Matt is an interactive designer and developer who knows how to translate words into pictures. He also put together the interface for the interactive teaching tool, called the Texas Interactive Power Simulator, which I developed as a part of my master’s research.
The banner itself is clean and simple on the surface. But, behind the wall there are connections that reach far beyond your house or office. The wall socket is the gateway to the world’s energy infrastructure – its transmission grid and power plants, gas wells and coal mines, and a whole slew of environmental impacts and policy discussions.
Tell us more about yourself - where are you from, how did you get into science?
I am from all over the United States – but mainly California and Texas. I currently live in Austin, but am moving to the east coast in a few weeks.
How did I get into science?
Growing up, I had a lot of moments that contributed to my fascination with math and science – learning how to build a fire so the air flowed over the kindling “just enough,” taking apart broken radios with a screwdriver and wire cutters, and seeing the leaves change color with the seasons. That, and my Astronaut Barbie – she was pretty awesome.
One memory sticks out, though. In 5th grade, a group of parents (including my mom and dad) helped to run an in-school enrichment course where we cut and measured circles to figure out the relationships between circumference, area, radius, and diameter. I was fascinated when I saw that, with each circle that I cut and measured, the number 3.14 (π) kept popping up. Every single time. This is probably when I fell in love with math and science.
For college, I studied biological systems engineering at the University of California, Davis. In 2003, I had the opportunity to spend 3 months studying energy and the environment at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. By the time I came back, I was hooked. Eight years, two graduate degrees and a lot of work later, I still love working in this field.
How did you get into science blogging and science writing? What were the early influences on you regarding your blogging style and topics?
I got into blogging because I wanted to share what I was learning and seeing in my research. And, I wanted to explore these things outside of the academic papers that I was writing in graduate school. David (Wogan) suggested that I start a blog. Once I did, I was hooked.
Because I am an engineer, I look for numbers – for quantitative evidence and data – and I appreciate clearly defined logical flows in discussions. My writing style is influenced by this way of looking at problems and topics.
In terms of other writers and speakers who have influenced my approach to blogging - former UT Professor Gary Chapman, Luis von Ahn from Carnegie Mellon (check out his TED talk), Sheril Kirshenbaum (who currently writes at Culture of Science), Thomas Friedman, Dr. Michael E. Webber – to name just a few of the many.
What is your blog about? Who is your target audience, and why do you think people should read your blog?
My part of this blog is aimed at exploring the intersection between energy technology and policy, with a significant focus on the environmental impacts of our energy choices. My target audience is people who want to learn more about the role of energy in our lives – its short and long-term impacts on our environment, economy, etc. I write for the people who want to explore these ideas and engage in the conversation.
Anything else interesting about you, perhaps cool hobbies?
I love my work – energy and the environment are endlessly fascinating to me - and I spend a lot of my time reading, questioning, exploring, learning, and (of course) writing.
But, outside of this work…
I love the water - swimming in it, paddling through it, skiing on it (especially when it’s frozen). My fiancé was a swimmer in college and I used to swim and play water polo – so, we spend a lot of our time in (or on) the water.
Away from the water, I am a volunteer and team leader with Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village Program. For my most recent trip (this past spring), I led a team of 16 folks from all over North America on a build in New Zealand. Over two weeks, we worked on four home sites and had an amazing time building with the local volunteers and the families who would receive the houses. I’ve also worked on Habitat projects in Central and North America.