Kashif Nawaz, 37, group leader, Multifunctional Equipment Integration, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Kashif Nawaz is on the front lines of developing research and technology to battle climate change at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. His work focuses on extracting carbon dioxide through heating and ventilation systems. He also has found a way to use the captured carbon to promote plant growth in greenhouses.
But his work doesn’t just translate to climate change. During the pandemic, Nawaz used his study of air movement to look at how to limit the spread of the virus via heating and ventilation systems.
Nawaz’s research advances the region’s role in fighting climate change and is part of larger efforts across the country to decarbonize.
When you reflect on your career so far, which achievement stands out most?
The development and implementation of a technology to capture and remove CO2, which can help us to mitigate the global warming process. I am leading a large team working on this game-changing solution and have achieved some remarkable results. I am optimistic about the deployment of the framework, which will help people across the globe.
What is the greatest professional obstacle you’ve had to overcome and how did you overcome it?
Building a network: it was a challenge for me to grow my network and took some time and effort to overcome this. I overcame this by adopting a proactive attitude and availing opportunities where I can connect with a broad group of people such as participation in various professional organizations. Currently, I am active in multiple organizations including the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Both platforms helped me interact and engage with highly accomplished professionals.
What will you focus on in 2023?
I am leading three major research programs for the decarbonization of U.S. buildings and the industrial sectors. Direct air capture from air, high-temperature heat pumps, and improved indoor air quality. All three projects are focused on the large-scale deployment of clean energy solutions. I will be focusing on the successful development of these programs. I am also serving as a group leader for a team consisting of engineers and scientists with exceptional skillset. I will ensure that I am providing appropriate guidance and support to my team to deliver and grow professionally and morally.
What is your biggest professional dream?
Under my current role at ORNL, we work on multiple interesting technological developments; however, oftentime the implications are limited. My biggest dream is to have at least one noticeable contribution to technology that can impact the lives of common people around the world.
What mistake did you learn the most from?
My biggest lesson learned is that prioritization is the key to the success. A long time ago, I had the habit of juggling several things while ensuring to give my best in each and every aspect. This started impacting my life in a negative manner. In order to change the situation, I listened to a dear friend who unveiled this troubling situation to me and taught me to say “no” and “let things go.”
What motivates you?
The excitement to learn about new things
What is the most overrated piece of business advice you’ve heard?
Never turn down an opportunity- This has been a common myth that in order to succeed one should look for opportunities and avail them. Unfortunately, this is becoming more common recently when people have been shifting their employment too soon. I have observed that this has been impacting the careers of young professionals in an adverse manner since this indicates a lack of consistency.
What trait do you most want in a co-worker?
A good team player who can see mutual success and failure.
What about Knoxville would you like to improve?
Knoxville is a great city with tons of opportunities for professionals of all ages. I love the relative quietness compared to some large cities and the proximity to major metropolitans. I believe one area to improve on is the development of infrastructure (roads, schools, markets) in areas where the population density is increasing. There is a high influx, which is great, but it will require appropriate accommodation in infrastructure.
What don’t people know about you?
Many people don’t know that I am a good cook of authentic Pakistani dishes. Also, many people don’t know that Cartoon Network is my favorite channel (again after 30 years) since I love watching cartoons with my three daughters. Maybe I have no other option. Lastly, many people don’t know that I am an environmentalist who strongly believes in preserving resources for generations to come
- Family: Spouse Huma Pervaiz; daughters Minha, Emaan and Alaya Nawaz; parents Muhammad Nawaz and Shahnaz Begum
- Years worked at current company: Six
- Degrees and certifications: Bachelor of science in mechanical engineering, Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology; master of science and doctor of philosophy in mechanical engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
- Community involvement: Member of Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology Alumni Association, member of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Alumni Association and member of Project Topi
This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity