NNSA stockpiles stewardship science talent

Among the hundreds of students spending their summer at the Lab are five graduate students from universities across the United States who were selected for a prestigious multi-year fellowship.

Matthew Buckner, Jordan McDonnell, Joshua Renner, Richard Kraus and Anna Nikiforova have been participating in the Stewardship Science Graduate Fellowship (SSGF), a four-year program coordinated through the DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to encourage the training of scientists pursuing a Ph.D. in areas of interest to stewardship science, such as high-energy density physics, low-energy nuclear science, or properties of materials under extreme conditions.

This summer at LLNL, the students completed a required "practicum," or research assignment, intended to broaden their experience outside their main thesis path.

Buckner, who will enter his third year of graduate school at the University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill, is pursuing a Ph.D. in physics. He also works at UNC's Laboratory for Experimental Nuclear Astrophysics (LENA) at Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory (TUNL) in Durham, N.C., where he is studying background suppression in the laboratory to develop and fabricate targets for use in a nuclear astrophysics experiment.

At LLNL, he has been working in CAMS under the direction of Scott Tumey and Graham Bench, to develop a detector and perform an experiment relevant to nuclear forensics.

"I was excited to come and visit LLNL for the summer," Buckner said. "Actively working toward a relevant research goal is extremely important to me. I am pleased to contribute to the Laboratory's stewardship science mission.

"My favorite part of any laboratory experience is conceptualizing, designing and building something useful for my research and for the laboratory," he added.

Buckner plans to finish his doctorate degree at UNC Chapel Hill and hopes to investigate job opportunities both inside and outside physics.

McDonnell, from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is in his second year of the NNSA fellowship and is studying theoretical physics. "My main research interest is to contribute to a universal framework for nuclear structure and reaction theory," he said. This summer, he has worked on fusion and nuclear theories with the Physical and Life Sciences Directorate.

McDonnell says that he became interested in physics when he was in the sixth grade. Later, he discovered an astronomy book that piqued his curiosity about black holes and supernovae. He adds that another book that sparked his interest was "The Elegant Universe," by Brian Greene, about string theory and astrophysics.

McDonnell said the best part about being at the Lab has been the many seminars available to summer students — "especially the WCI seminars."

Renner is from the Detroit, Michigan area. He attends UC Berkeley where he is studying for his Ph.D. in physics. His particular field of study is nuclear particle physics.

At the Lab, Renner has been working in the Advanced Detectors Group of the Physics Division on the development of a particle detector called the "Negative Ion Time Projection Chamber."

This detector will use a technique called "negative ion drift" to detect the energy of incoming particles with high precision. Renner has been working on computer simulations used to model the electric fields within the detector and the negative ion drift process.

About the Lab environment, he said, "It seems strict though friendly at the same time, and it demands high standards of professionalism, safety and security. I have been challenged to think carefully about every aspect of my work to ensure that it meets these standards. Working in this environment is both the best and most challenging part of being here at the Lab."

Renner plans to complete a Ph.D. in physics at UC Berkeley and then possibly work in academia or at a national lab.

Kraus is from Reno, Nev. He received his bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Nevada, Reno and a degree in physics from the University of Cambridge, UK.  Now he's studying at Harvard University in the Earth and Planetary Science Department.

"I was a summer student at Los Alamos National Lab when I first heard about the SSGF program. The LANL student office distributed notification of the fellowship to the different mailing lists.

"My current research at Harvard also is aligned with the program as I am broadly interested in giant planetary impact events and the internal structure of planetary bodies."

Kraus said he has been working on two projects this summer: the first uses the Janus laser at the Jupiter Laser Facility to drive divergent shock waves in H 2 O ice targets to mimic a giant impact on an icy planetary body. The second project also uses the Janus laser to shock SiO2 quartz into the supercritical fluid state, then measure properties of the SiO2 after it has decompressed from the shocked state.

"Three years ago, while I was a summer student at LANL, I spent a week helping out on an experiment at the Jupiter Laser Facility and was very interested in getting to work on my own experiments here," he said.

Kraus said the best part about LLNL is the people. "There are so many people here to chat with about science or the many different parts of my experiments that I am never at a loss for someone to discuss a problem with. The facilities and technical support are also extremely nice.

"My mentor has been very supportive of my experiments as well as teaching me about how to work in a lab of this size," he said.

Nikiforova started her education at a community college and transferred to Oregon State University to continue her education in nuclear engineering. At the university, her passion for nuclear engineering encouraged her to continue at the graduate level. She currently is a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the nuclear science and engineering department.

"I found the SSGF program particularly attractive because of an opportunity to spend a summer at a national lab. "

This summer, Nikiforova worked in the Advanced Detectors Group of the Physics Division. Her project involved exploring the applicability of water-based Cherenkov detectors to signature high-energy gamma and neutron radiation from photofission of special nuclear materials.

"I could not pass on an opportunity to come and learn about the research going on at Livermore Lab.

"I'm grateful to my mentors for their continuous support and incredible patience. My mentors have made an effort not only to be supportive at the Lab, but also to spend some time with students outside the Lab," she said.

"I think that the best part of being here has been to work on projects that are challenging and exciting with people who share my passion for nuclear science. LLNL is definitely a collaborative, never-boring environment."