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Chemical Engineer Quickly Makes Impact To Address Climate Change
NETL’s Mariah Young

NETL’s Mariah Young

It didn’t take long for NETL’s Mariah Young to find her perfect fit.

Her first job after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh involved working on the system that powers NASA’s deep space missions, such as the Perseverance rover which was sent to Mars to collect rock and soil samples and conduct research.

“Although that work was interesting and exciting, I wanted to work in energy and ideally in a role that would help mitigate climate change,” said Young, a chemical engineer who now serves on NETL’s Point Source Carbon Capture Team.

“That’s why I was so excited when I got the call from NETL and was eager to accept the position they offered me,” said Young, who joined NETL in January 2021.

During her short time at the Lab, Young has been recognized for advancing cutting-edge projects to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) — the primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activities.

In 2022, she and her colleagues received the Chairperson’s Excellence in Government Gold Award and the Outstanding Small Team Gold Award from the Pittsburgh Federal Executive Board for their work overseeing the development and commercialization of more than 120 projects to address climate change.

Young recently discussed her responsibilities at NETL, the path that brought her to the Lab and the exciting life she shares with her husband, Maleek.

What do you do at NETL?

As a federal project manager, I negotiate and manage federally funded research and development projects for point source carbon capture (PSCC) technologies. The technologies are focused on capturing CO2 produced at the power generation or industrial source before it is emitted into the atmosphere. The captured CO2 can then be safely sequestered in the subsurface or used as a feedstock to produce chemicals and value-added products.

As a member of the PSCC team, I am managing projects that develop highly efficient carbon capture technologies at a low cost for deep decarbonization of the power and industrial sectors. This is extremely important in helping the United States achieve its climate goals. I believe my work plays a critical role in saving the planet.

NETL supports a diverse workforce to generate fresh perspectives and new ideas. What advice would you offer to encourage more young women to explore careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)?

Never stop learning and build a strong professional network. I would also suggest being willing to step out of your comfort zone and take on opportunities that you may not feel 100% ready for because it’s a chance for you to grow and gain experience. You might surprise yourself.

What was the spark that drew you to your field?

I always loved math in school. The more complex it got, the more I enjoyed trying to solve the problems. When I got to high school, I fell in love with chemistry. It was the only science class that made complete sense to me at the time and didn’t gross me out.

My chemistry teacher, Ms. Mitchell, made the class so much fun! She, along with other teachers and my dad, helped me discover that engineering, specifically chemical engineering, might be for me.

Who was your role model back then?

I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me in science or engineering growing up, so I can’t say I ever had a role model within professional settings. However, my parents always told me I could do or be whatever I wanted. My dad would help me research opportunities that aligned with my interests. At the end of the day, I chose to wholeheartedly believe my parents and decided to follow my passions wherever they led me.

What were your keys to academic success?

I’ve always had a strong work ethic and I am pretty self-motivated, but I believe the major key to my academic success was my support system. I not only had a solid study group, but I leaned on counselors within the diversity office for guidance. I joined clubs where I made friends who gave me advice and showed me there was more to college life than just studying.

You and your husband, who works in clinical research at the University of Pittsburgh, live in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Highland Park. That’s near the zoo. What’s it like living near a zoo?

I love Highland Park. Living near the zoo is interesting because occasionally we can hear the lions roaring! My husband thinks it’s cool but for some reason it makes me think of the lion in Jumanji.

You were raised in Kansas City, Missouri. That’s home to serious barbecue. What is your favorite type of barbecue and does Pittsburgh have good barbecue?

My favorite thing to get when I visit home is a burnt end sandwich. I haven’t found anything here that beats Kansas City barbecue, but Pittsburgh puts on a rib festival, which I love. I went for the first time last year and there was a lot of good barbecue from all over the country. 

What hobbies or activities do you and Maleek enjoy in your spare time?

We both take health and wellness pretty seriously, so we like to exercise together. We also enjoy cooking together.  He handles the main courses and I cover the sides and desserts. To recharge, I really like to “nerd-out” on Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By leveraging its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.