Stacy Davis: Changing the world through data
November 22, 2017
For anyone seeking comprehensive data and analysis regarding the vehicle technology market, all roads lead to Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Stacy Davis.
Unflagging curiosity, an ability to read trends, and an eagle eye for detail are the tools that drive Davis’s work creating key data resources for the transportation sector.
Davis sits at the nexus of critical information flowing between sources such as the Energy Information Administration, the Department of Energy (DOE), and the national labs. She collects, analyzes, and packages data on the complex and evolving patterns of freight and passenger mobility in America, creating go-to references like the Transportation Energy Data Book, the Fact of the Week, and the Vehicle Technologies Market Report for DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO).
These resources provide foundational data for decision-makers in government and industry as well as modelers tracking trends and start-up companies investigating the potential market for their product.
“What keeps me going is being able to give other people the data they need when they need it,” says Davis, who regularly provides answers to everyone from automakers to high school students, congressional aides, and the media.
Davis has a wealth of information at her fingertips. If the requested data is not in the latest volume of the Transportation Energy Data Book or TEDB, chances are good that Davis knows just where to find it and how to interpret it accurately.
“You have to be very detail-oriented, and you have to be very careful with data,” says Davis. “You have to make sure numbers are compatible from one year to the next. You can’t just pull it from the same place each year. Sometimes results are orders of magnitudes off from year to year. You have to look at it and see what happened. Why that changed.”
The ability to spot an inconsistency in a 20-year data series is one of Davis’s most valued talents, honed from her ongoing immersion in the world of transportation facts and figures.
Planes, trains, and automobiles
Transportation as a career caught Davis’s interest in college. Though she has a family connection through her grandfather who worked in the trucking industry, it was not until she took a sophomore-year class in Transportation and Logistics at the University of Tennessee that Davis found her calling.
“Transportation is integral to our daily lives,” said Davis. “And there are so many facets to it, generating so much data. I enjoy doing the numbers and looking at the data.”
That enthusiasm has carried Davis through volumes of work in producing resources like the TEDB. With development of Volume 36 currently underway, Davis reflects that she can mark the major events in her life by the book she was working on at the time.
When Davis started at the laboratory, she assisted with volume 9, which also marked her marriage. By volume 12, Davis had stepped into the principal investigator role, leading the TEDB project. While volume 13 contains a congratulatory note from her sponsor on the birth of her son, Robbie.
The TEDB is not Davis’s only long-term project. Every week, she develops and shares a nugget of information called the Fact of the Week, posting it to the Vehicle Technologies Office’s website and emailing it to a growing list of more than 8,000 subscribers.
How many miles do Americans travel each year on the road and by plane? Does it take more energy to charge an electric vehicle or heat water in the average home? How does the price of gas this year compare to 80 years ago when adjusted for inflation? Davis has highlighted these and many other aspects of the transportation sector through the Fact of the Week, an initiative she has worked on since 2001. She recently posted Fact #1,004 and published a report on the most popular themes in the first 1,000 facts.
Data such as the kind Davis compiles and maintains are the foundation upon which evolutionary change is being ushered into the vehicle technology sector, supporting everything from alternative-fueled, zero-emission vehicles to self-driving cars.
“I honestly believe my data has changed the world,” said Davis. “Because without good data, you can’t do all the other good work,” she said, referring to VTO-funded research and to legislative change backed by sound data.
ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for DOE’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit http://science.energy.gov/. - Kim Askey