Janet Barth: Nurturing a Society

This senior member is taking the IEEE Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society to the next level

21 August 2013

When IEEE Senior Member Janet Barth became the president of the IEEE Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society (NPSS) in January, she hit the ground running. Overseeing nine technical committees, the society’s seven conferences, and two peer-reviewed journals, she works after hours and on weekends to help expand the society and strengthen its mission. Its committees focus on radiation instrumentation and effects, medical imaging, plasma sciences, fusion technology, particle accelerators, nuclear power and technology, and other related topics and industry sectors.

Barth, the electrical engineering division chief at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has already engaged society leaders to develop strategies to revamp its image to appeal to members across a broad international and demographic spectrum. The annual society retreat in March focused on the need to include international and industry members.

read Photo: Janet Barth

One of Barth’s goals as president is to bolster NPSS membership in underserved regions such as Africa, Asia, and South America. “While committee work is about the bigger, grander ideas, it’s thrilling to see that spark of something new getting started when minds come together at a conference and as a result, there’s a team ready to collaborate on the next set of research topics,” says Barth.

LOFTY GOALS

Barth would like to see the society transcend language barriers by building more international relationships and setting up more society chapters around the world to help society leaders understand other countries’ cultural and business nuances. This year, an NPSS student chapter was established in Algeria at Alexandria University, which is the first for the society in Africa. The newly established chapter contributed an article to the most recent NPSS newsletter, inspiring members with its enthusiasm. Barth also hopes that more opportunities come from cultivating relationships with foreign students who study in the United States and can serve as cultural ambassadors.

Another mission for Barth is to establish a strong NPSS identity.

“Our first goal is to be more cohesive with IEEE branding, and the second is to appeal to individuals who are not IEEE members early in their careers,” she says. With her guidance, the society plans to strengthen its social media presence to interact with younger generations, and potentially create an app to register new members at its conferences, instead of the current paper forms.

Barth is also working with IEEE’s Graduates of the Last Decade and Women in Engineering affinity groups to establish activities at conferences that would interest younger engineers, such as teaching them how to review papers to submit for publication to IEEE. She would also like to see the society offer more educational opportunities to students in middle and high schools to inspire them to choose a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) career before they reach college.

SUCCESS STORY

Barth’s foray into IEEE volunteering was incremental. She began reviewing papers for IEEE Transactions in Nuclear Science shortly after joining IEEE in 1992, when she worked as an astrophysicist at NASA. She served as its guest editor before becoming active in the IEEE Nuclear and Space Radiation Effects Conference (NSREC) as technical program chair, conference chair, session chair, short course instructor, and awards committee member.

Her NSREC duties run concurrent to her society involvement. In 2008, she was elected as a member of the society’s Administrative Committee, and in 2011, she was elected to be the vice president.

“At my first NSREC conference in 1983, there were 800 attendees, only three of whom were women,” she says. “Regardless, I always felt welcomed as a peer and never felt intimidated. In 2006 I was the first female conference chair for the NSREC. After that, it seemed like a lot more women were coming to the conference. It was a sign of things to come.” In 2008, the traditional NSREC “conference firsts” report noted that it was the first time that “there was a line in the women’s restroom at one of the session breaks.”

Barth’s involvement not only helped her find avenues to publish her research but also exposed her to a cross-pollination of ideas from people in other branches of engineering.

“We would set up collaborations and pool resources,” she says. “I was able to bring back some of that research to help advance my understanding of the impact of radiation effects on flight missions at NASA.”

Nowadays, Barth manages a 270-member team that develops, tests, and manufactures avionics systems hardware for NASA science instruments and spacecraft. Her leadership, enthusiasm, and dedication is reflected in her nearly three dozen NASA and IEEE achievement awards—including NASA Distinguished Achievement Awards in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010, and the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal in 1997. She also earned Outstanding Data Workshop Paper awards at the IEEE NSREC in 2003 and 1998, and the 2002 George Abraham Outstanding Paper Award, given to the best paper at the Government Microcircuit Applications and Critical Technology Conference.“As I’ve become more mature in my career, volunteering is a way for me to give back to this body of science,” she says.