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Energizing Young Women to Become High-Tech Innovators


Contributed by Richard Lewington, Technical Communications HP Labs



HP Labs researchers Cat Graves, Susan Spence and Niru Kumari at the 2015 Women's Innovation Council forum in Half Moon Bay, California


The Women’s Innovation Council was founded in 2013 to provide women technology leaders with a collaborative forum to drive and share technology innovations to make a difference in their businesses and communities.

Last week, HP brought together more than 45 of the most prominent female CEO, CIO and CTOs at a forum in Half Moon Bay, California, to harness the power of the Council and its network to energize girls and young women to become the next generation of high-tech innovators.

Since its launch in 2013, the forum has exposed the council to leading edge innovations in the tech sector, and this year was no exception. HP’s CTO Martin Fink was invited to share his insights into The Machine, HP Labs' ambitious research project to reinvent computers and computing. 


In line with the council’s endeavor to encourage the next-generation of women to pursue career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), Martin was assisted by three members of HP Labs’ research team: Cat Graves, Niru Kumari and Susan Spence.

Post-doctoral researcher Dr. Cat Graves explained how The Machine will use non-volatile memory to enable us to rapidly process vast data sets. She went on to talk about her research exploring the foundational physics of Memristor memory, which HP Labs believes is the best long-term non-volatile memory technology.

Senior Research Engineer Dr. Niru Kumari outlined the remarkable range of scales she works at in designing the actual Machine hardware. From nanometer-scale microchip structures to petabyte-scale memory arrays – 24 orders of magnitude – a daunting array of modelling techniques must be mastered to optimize performance and power-efficiency.

Lastly, Senior Research Engineer Dr. Susan Spence explored some of the ways in which her team are taking advantage of The Machine’s new architecture to radically simplify how applications are created and how efficiently those applications are executed.

Afterwards, host Sue Barsamian, who heads world indirect sales for HP’s Enterprise Group, invited the researchers back on stage to talk about how their paths led to HP Labs. All three could serve as role models for young women as they make decisions that will affect their careers.

For example, Susan Spence didn’t study computing in school because it wasn’t even available. She went to university to study history, but because she’d studied mathematics extensively at school, she was able to take a computing class, saying to herself “it’s bound to come in useful”. And so, it did. Susan graduated with a joint Master’s degree in Medieval History and Computer Science before focusing entirely on computing for her Ph.D. at Glasgow University, which she completed in 2000.

Niru Kumari received the ASME’s EPPD Women in Engineering Award in 2014, which recognizes women engineers with significant technical achievements in the field of electronic and photonic device engineering. Niru joined HP Labs in 2010 after achieving a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Purdue University. She is a regularly invited speaker at industry and academic events, and regularly mentors new engineers and interns at HP Labs.

Cat Graves is pursuing her post-doctoral research at HP labs having been awarded a Ph.D. in Applied Physics by Stanford University. It seemed Cat was destined to be a scientist: both her parents were biochemists and she began building a track record of successful research while still an undergraduate. However, her interests were broad, as her double major in physics and political sciences demonstrates. Cat’s advice to aspiring scientists is that finding the right mentors for guidance and encouragement is vital.


Photography by Richard Lewington

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