Mission Critical is excited to introduce you to the 2024 Top 25 Women in Technology. Meet Mary O’Brien.

Title: Scientist

Company: Los Alamos National Laboratory

Age: 32

Education: Bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering; master’s degree in metallurgical and materials engineering; PhD in metallurgical and materials engineering

Achievements/awards: Large Team Distinguished Performance Award “Pegpost Team,” LANL; Overall Lab Award Winner at Rio Grande Research SLAM speaking competition;Winner of the "Science in 3” speaking competition at LANL; WESST Star Award Quarter 1, LANL. Award for contributions to safety and security; G.T. Seaborg Post-doctoral Fellowship, LANL; Outstanding Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Teaching Assistant Colorado School of Mines; Most Outstanding Master’s Thesis, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Colorado School of Mines

What made you realize you wanted to pursue a career in technology?

I saw the movie October Sky as a kid, which is about a group of guys that learned how to build their own rockets, and ever since I watched that movie I knew I wanted to be a scientist or engineer.

What inspires you to do what you do?

Honestly? Unrelenting curiosity and stubbornness. I have always questioned the status-quo and pushed to know and learn more. Science allows me to take that attitude and apply it daily for a living.

What role does sustainability play in your life?

I am a huge outdoor enthusiast, including mountain biking and skiing as some of my favorite hobbies. So I take care every day to reduce my impact in terms of single-use plastics, energy efficiency in my home and vehicles, and advocating for policies that will protect our planet for future generations.

What is the most fascinating thing you have learned while working in this industry?

I am fascinated by the fact that we actually know so little about so many of the natural phenomena we experience everyday. I think that's really beautiful and inspiring.

What’s something unique about you personally?

Me, personally? I don't let social norms or societal expectations govern what I choose to say or how I choose to look. If I want visible tattoos and holes in my ears, or I have a dissenting opinion that's unpopular, I'm not afraid to push back and do or say what I feel is right or best represents me.

What’s something unique about you professionally?

Professionally I'm eternally an overly excitable kid that is always fascinated and driven by beauty and questioning the status quo. I think a lot of people lose this sense of wonder in adulthood and call it "maturity", but I hope to never lose it as long as I live.

What’s your most admirable quality?

My most admirable quality is how much of my free time and sanity I am willing to dedicate to attempt to correct injustices in society. This is also my least admirable quality all in one, because it has historically been difficult for me to balance this with taking care of myself.

Why is diversity, equality, and inclusion important to you?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is important to me because I know women that came before me opened the doors to allow for me to do what I did today, so I want to use that privilege to open doors for other underrepresented groups to find their place in STEM as well.

What aspect of the industry do you think has the most potential for growth, and, on the other hand, which aspect do you think needs the most improvement?

I think we can only get better at making a more inclusive environment for people of all types of backgrounds and beliefs. I really do believe that a more diverse workplace leads to more innovation, and innovation that we could not even currently conceive of without those voices.

When you imagine the future of the tech2nology industry, what does it look like?

It looks representative of our societal make up and is a place that isn't afraid to dismantle its own ideas of what is "good" and "cutting edge" in pursuit of answers to many of the grand challenges we face today as a society.

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