Amber Boehnlein can’t remember a time when she didn’t love science.
As a child, growing up in the small Ohio village of Germantown, Boehnlein (pronounced “Bane Line”) would often play math games with her grandmother. She taught herself how to code while in high school. When she went off to college, it was only natural that she chose to study physics.
Years of working at national laboratories led Boehnlein to her current position: Chief Information Officer at Jefferson Lab. As CIO, Boehnlein is responsible for the lab’s Information Technology Division as well as the lab’s IT systems, including scientific data analysis, high-performance computing, IT infrastructure and cyber security.
Boehnlein comes to Jefferson Lab after four years of working at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, Calif. While at SLAC, she led the Scientific Computing Applications Division. There, she gained expertise in computational physics relevant to light sources and large scale databases for astrophysics. She also oversaw the hardware computing systems for SLAC’s High-Energy Physics (HEP) program.
Recruited from Silicon Valley to the country’s opposite shore in Virginia, Boehnlein found the offer of coming to Jefferson Lab appealing. This lab, she says, “is one of the best in the nation.”
“It was time for me to take the next step in my career,” says Boehnlein, who began her new role as CIO in June. “I was quite prepared to go where I found something interesting.”
After earning her bachelor’s degree from Miami University of Ohio and her doctorate in physics from Florida State University, Boehnlein spent 15 years at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory outside of Chicago. At Fermilab, which is considered the United State’s premier particle physics lab, Boehnlein was a staff scientist in the Computing Division. She also was a member of the Fermilab’s DØ (DZero) experimental collaboration.
Boehnlein has experience in everything from triggering systems and high performance computing to light sources and detectors – the latter which she learned a lot about while on a three-year assignment with the Department of Energy’s Office of High Energy Physics, where she managed the U.S. Large Hadron Collider Detector Operations program.
She’s excited to be leading and working with Jefferson Lab’s IT division staff, which is handling more data than ever thanks to the detector system upgrades. “That means more channels. More channels mean more data. More data means more to compute,” she notes.
Fortunately at Jefferson Lab, “things work really well here,” Boehnlein says. That gives her a chance to step back, observe, take everything in and “figure out where I want to move things along.”
Among her duties, Boehnlein says she sees cyber security as of the utmost importance, especially in light of data breaches in the federal government in recent years.
“We have an obligation to keep the data here as safe and secure as possible,” she comments. “We want to make sure this is a safe, healthy environment, and that includes cyber health.”
In addition to her CIO responsibilities, Boehnlein plans to get involved in a Jefferson Lab experiment as well as take part in the lab’s education outreach programs. She is passionate about working with students and getting them as excited about her field as she is. At times throughout her career, especially in senior-level positions, she’s been the only woman in the room.
It has never fazed her.
“You never want an excuse not to do your best,” she says.
“Getting more girls – really, getting more young people, period – involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers is important to the country as a whole”, Boehnlein points out, “and the opportunities are there.” She’s particularly interested in introducing a coding tutorial program that could be offered to kids.
For a curious person like herself, Boehnlein says being a scientist becomes a way of life. Being a manager satisfies her desire to work with people and help others grow.
“At a national lab, there’s something new to learn every day,” she says. “There’s so much to do. And whatever I do, I want to do well.”
Boehnlein, and her husband David, a retired physicist and freelance science writer with a blog on paleontology, are making their home in Hampton.
Jefferson Lab is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit science.energy.gov.
By Kim O’Brien Root