Working hard at what you love

Dr. Ashfia Huq

Dr. Ashfia Huq '96

Academic focus: physics major

Ashfia is the group leader for Chemical Crystallography at the Neutron Scattering Sciences Directorate of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. There, she studies various materials for energy storage and other applications using neutron scattering.

“Think about graphite vs diamonds. What makes them different? They are both carbon. The difference is in how the carbons are structured. In diamond, the forces are extremely strong, in graphite, not so much. How the atoms are put together makes a difference.”

Ashfia leads a team which studies the differences in crystal structure through neutron diffraction. Her work primarily focuses on the material used for lithium-ion and other batteries, which is important for all rechargeable batteries such as the one on cell phones, computers, and electric cars.

This is Ashfia’s dream job. As she explains, “I get to play with million-dollar tools!” As a part of her daily work, Ashfia runs the powder diffractometer called POWGEN. This supports research of scientists all over the country and overseas. 

Dr. Huq says that Mount Holyoke College taught her the problem-solving skills and provided a helpful stepping stone to Graduate School at Stony Brook University in New York, where she earned her Doctorate degree.

She advises any current students to persevere, saying “Most of the time I’m in a room when most of my colleagues are men. 90% of the time I am the only female. Don’t get intimidated. You can do it. If you don’t like it, it’s not worth it. [Physics] is rather difficult, but what sets you apart is the fact that you love doing what you love and that you’re willing to work hard for it."