LLNL physicist Debbie Callahan receives fusion leadership award

Debbie Callahan

LLNL physicist Debbie Callahan has earned Fusion Power Associates its 2022 Leadership Award.

The Fusion Power Associates (FPA) Board of Directors has selected Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) physicist Debbie Callahan as a recipient of its 2022 Leadership Award.

Callahan will receive the award at the Fusion Power Associates 43rd Annual Meeting and Symposium, Dec. 7–8, in Washington, D.C. Kathryn McCarthy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory also was selected to receive a leadership award from the FPA board.

In selecting Callahan, the FPA board recognizes her decades of leadership and outstanding contributions to the design of hohlraum targets for implosion experiments on the National Ignition Facility (NIF). The board also notes the leadership she has provided for recruiting, training and mentoring a diverse group of scientists needed for the design of a future generation of targets for NIF experiments.

“I’m honored to have been selected for this award and be in the company of other great leaders in fusion — both at LLNL and around the world," Callahan said. “I’ve spent my career in fusion — first in inertial fusion energy and then moving to working towards ignition on NIF. It’s been an incredible journey of interesting science and technology and I’ve gotten to work with a great team of people in ICF and NIF.”

Callahan joined LLNL in 1987 as a graduate student in the Department of Applied Science, UC Davis. She received her Ph.D. in 1993 and was hired into X Division as a postdoc working on inertial fusion energy. She has spent her career working on inertial fusion energy (IFE) and inertial confinement fusion (ICF). She has authored or co-authored more than 200 refereed journal publications

Callahan became a group leader for ICF/IFE target design in AX Division in 2007, and associate division leader for ICF Design in 2013. Prior to the start of NIF experiments, she led the Hohlraum Point Design Working Group within the National Ignition Campaign to develop the point-design hohlraum for ignition. She has been involved with NIF experiments since they started in 2009.

In 2012, she was a co-recipient of the Dawson Prize for Excellence in Plasma Physics for work done on NIF. She served as a co-campaign leader for the High-Foot Campaign on NIF, and has served on the APS Division of Plasma Physics Committee for Women in Plasma Physics and the Division of Plasma Physics Executive Committee. She was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society in 2014.

As a strong advocate for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Callahan specifically encourages those interested in fusion to be patient.

“My advice to anyone who wants to work in fusion is to be realistically optimistic,” she said. “Fusion is a grand challenge problem, which means there will be ups and downs in the pursuit of fusion. We need to look at the data critically to see what Mother Nature is telling us — but at the same time, not get discouraged.”  

FPA leadership awards have been given annually since 1980 to recognize persons who have shown outstanding leadership qualities in accelerating the development of fusion as a commercial power source. Click here for a complete list of previous recipients and information on the annual meeting.