Ten on Tech: Spotlight on Lisa Lazareck-Asunta

Dr. Lisa Lazareck-Asunta is a 20-year Senior Member of the IEEE and has been an elected and appointed IEEE volunteer since 2003. She is currently the Chair of the IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) Committee, and has held many IEEE leadership positions, including roles in the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, IEEE Technical Activities Board Strategic Planning Committee (TAB SPC), and IEEE Young Professionals Committee.

Lisa has multiple degrees in electrical engineering: a BSc and MSc from the University of Manitoba, Canada; and a PhD (or DPhil) from the University of Oxford, UK. Her academic expertise is in biomedical signal processing and includes investigating the Obstructive Sleep Apnea disorder by the processing of oxygen saturation signals for diagnostic purposes. Following her PhD, she worked for 6.5 years at the Wellcome Trust, UK – specializing in charitable grant funding and public engagement with science and engineering. Lisa still enjoys filming for the Discovery Channel every now and again, and is currently in a new role at the University of Reading, looking at the impact of research outside of academia.

What movies or live shows have you enjoyed the most in recent years?

Traveling for the IEEE is a real treat for me, as it typically means a few uninterrupted hours of film watching on flights around the world.  I had an inspirational trip to Atlanta recently (to attend the IEEE Board Series Meeting in June 2019) and watched a double header of “On the Basis of Sex” – a drama biopic about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, followed by her documentary “RBG.”  What an amazing woman, with her champion husband and incredible story.  We are also taking trips down memory lane in my household, re-watching Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, followed by our own spaghetti and meatball dinner.  My two year old daughter was over the moon with joy.  I have also loved live theatre my whole life, and my latest treat was Beautiful: The Carol King Musical, another inspirational story about a talented woman with an impressive career.

What about current technology worries you?

It isn’t current technology that worries me, but more so how people can use / misuse that technology.  There are social, ethical and legal ramifications for using technology – many issues that are being unpicked by our STEM engagement and impact communities – which is a step in the right direction.

What in recent years has surprised you the most?

I am surprised how the term “AI” is so ubiquitous these days, with very unsatisfying explanations about its meaning and context.  I am surprised how powerful my mobile phone is, and how quickly it then becomes unusable.  I am surprised how the number of women staying in engineering (in certain countries) is so slow to change despite the concerted efforts of so many to focus on STEM for children in their early years, etc.  I am surprised how much pink is still for girls, and blue is still for boys.  Oh, and my daughter – she surprises me daily.

What was the best advice anyone has given you?

Sometimes in life, you are put in a situation that you just wouldn’t have chosen for yourself.  How you behave in this situation, how you make the best out of this situation, is entirely up to you.  When I was given this advice, I didn’t realize that it was just a longer version of: when life throws you lemons, make lemonade.

What has been or is your favorite equation or concept in engineering, and why?

I love equations – the more complicated the better.  In engineering, I especially enjoyed taking the time to figure out the hardest equation and breaking it down into tangible bits that I could crack.  My background in electrical engineering included a lot of pattern recognition, signal processing, and complex mathematics.

What have been important life lessons for you that you might be able to share with us? 

Strive for excellence in all that you do.  Always try your best – because you just can’t do any better.  You must love what you do in life, because a job is just a job, and a passion is for a lifetime.

How many unread emails are in your inbox?

At the moment, five, but there will certainly be another thirty by the morning.  The beauty of working with volunteers around the world, is that you are guaranteed a full inbox every morning, and every night.  I was fortunate enough to stumble across a productivity course a few years ago, and I became an “email ninja” – only processing my inbox a few times a day, and working out a filing system that works most of the time.  I still need to work hard at responding to my emails, but more and more, I am trying to speak with colleagues instead, online and via phone, to avoid email overload and paperwork burnout.

What should IEEE be (more) involved in?  

I would love to see a higher public profile for the IEEE, that goes beyond our science/engineering/technical communities that already know about our strengths and hold our work to a high esteem.  I think that making IEEE accessible for the public (Who created the standard of IEEE 802.11x or Wi-Fi, used and loved everywhere?) would help breakdown the stereotype of ‘the engineer’ which exists in many countries still.  I believe this would help make our profession as diverse and inclusive as it needs to be in order to best advance technology for the benefit of humanity.

Comments

  • Excellent . The role of women in Engineering is very appreciated. she has alot of experience as volunteer which she can use better

  • Project Tandem Power A short story that promotes engineering for your women.
    by Dan R. Olsen

    Nikki knocked on the door to her Grandpa’s den and waited. “Hi Ole,” followed the
    knock. “Are you busy?”
    Ole stirred in his chair, replaced his bookmark then gave his granddaughter a sideways
    glance. “Hello Nikki, how are you doing? Nana told me you were stopping by for lunch.
    What’s going on at school these days?” he asked.
    “I’m good. You know I can’t pass up Nana’s Turkey BLT’s and fried green tomatoes,”
    she replied. “Also, I have a project in my circuits and machines class and thought you
    might be able to help me.”
    “Need my two cents worth, huh?”
    “Or, just a penny for your thoughts,” she replied with a sly grin, having been down this
    bad-pun road before.
    “Someone’s making a penny!” they both said at the same time, followed by a shared
    laugh.
    Ole motioned to the other chair in the room. “What’s the scope of this project Nik?”
    “Well, I’m supposed to use an analogy to explain a technical process,” she said. “I
    thought of you, since you worked at the electric utility for, like forever.”
    “Forever and a day,” Ole responded, watching his granddaughter pull an iPad from her
    backpack.
    “I downloaded an example power system and it shows the path of electricity from the
    generator, through a substation transformer and then down a distribution feeder all the
    way to the meter, see.” She said, turning the electronic device around and handing it to
    her Grandpa.
    “Ah, so this is a 50-hertz system?”
    “No, Ole,” Nikki replied with exasperation. “This is America, so the system frequency is
    60 hertz! Now, are you going to test me or teach me something I don’t know?”
    Ole sat back in his recliner, properly chastised. “Sorry Nikki,” he said. “An old habit, but
    I think I might be able to help you. Do you remember the Emerts, a few houses down
    the street?”
    Nikki closed one eye and cocked her head slightly as she pondered the question. “Were
    they the family with the Irish Setter that used to jump the fence?”
    “Yes, the very same,” Ole said. “Do you remember anything else about them?”
    “Oh, of course,” Nikki replied, a grin spreading across her face. “They would ride down
    Park road on a blue, tandem bicycle, right?”
    Ole was remembering back ten years; after he had just bought Nikki a black cherry
    flavored snow cone. He had asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. He
    still recalled her serious expression as she proudly stated ‘I plan to work at Sonic, just
    like my Mom.’ Now, his little granddaughter was a junior at the university, studying
    electrical engineering.
    “Ole, you said you might be able to help me, so do you have an idea?” So much time
    had passed that Nikki thought Ole might have dozed off, but her question brought him
    out of his reverie.
    “Oh, sorry Nik, I guess my thoughts momentarily fell through a crack into the past. But
    yes, to answer your question, I do have an idea.”
    “That’s great; I can take notes on my iPad,” Nikki said, tapping on the keyboard.
    “Okay,” Ole began, “imagine the Emerts are pedaling down Park road on their tandem
    bicycle. If you remember, there is a three-phase power line that runs parallel to the
    road. Well, I think that the workings of this electrical power system can be illustrated
    with the mechanical analogy of the tandem bicycle. So, I will point to you after I
    describe each process and then you will have to tell me the equivalent term it
    represents in the power system, got it?”
    “Sure, I’m ready!” Nikki said enthusiastically.
    “First and foremost,” Ole began, “this bike is kept running at a constant speed.” He
    suddenly stopped and pointed at his granddaughter.
    “Oh, uh,” Nikki stammered. We just talked about this, its frequency, right?”
    “Exactly, very good,” Ole said, nodding approvingly. “Now, along with running at a
    constant speed,” he continued, “the bike must also be in an upright position.” His
    pointing finger swung yet again in her direction.
    “Okay, I know this one too,” Nikki said with a slight frown on her brow. “Is it the
    voltage?”
    Once they got into a steady rhythm of lecturing and finger pointing, most of the
    descriptive details for Nikki’s project were established. The main body of her analogy
    read like this:
    On the bike, there are cyclists (generators) who pedal continuously, but with different
    force. Since all sprockets are connected with chains, this implies that they rotate at the
    same speed. A so-called bike rpm (system frequency) related to the speed of the bike
    is obtained. Some people on the bike are just braking all the time (loads). Some
    cyclists try to brake or stop their pedals (motor loads).
    Smaller cyclists, normally children (low power production) who cannot bike as much,
    use a belt to connect between the pedals and the sprocket. They always sit a bit to the
    right of the bike’s midpoint. This causes a force on the bike (they consume reactive
    power) that overturns it to the right if this force is not compensated. Capacitors are
    special, high capacity people who never bike or brake but just sit on a seat, a bit to the
    left side of the bike’s midpoint (capacitors produce reactive power).
    Some of the cyclists continuously look at the speed of the bike (frequency control). If
    the speed decreases, depending on an unreliable cyclist (unit outage) or too many
    braking cyclists (load increase), then these “speed controllers” adjust their stroke on the
    pedals in order to adjust the speed. On some bikes a special person (deregulated),
    who is not biking and who is responsible for the speed control (independent system
    operator), asks the one that is prepared to do it for least cost (cheapest bid on
    regulating market) to change his or her pedal stroke.
    Nana’s announcement that lunch was ready could be heard from the kitchen down the
    hall.
    “Thanks, Ole, I knew I could count on you,” Nikki said, closing her iPad and sliding it
    back into her backpack. “Now I feel like going on a bike ride!”
    “Best not keep Nana waiting,” Ole said, rising up from his recliner. “Maybe we can get
    snow cones for dessert.”

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