DOE honors two early-career Lab scientists

LLNL's winners of the Department of Energy Office of Science Early Career Research Program Award. (Download Image)

Daniel Casey and Gauthier Deblonde are recipients of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science Early Career Research Program award.

Two scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) are recipients of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science Early Career Research Program award.

Daniel Casey and Gauthier Deblonde are among 93 awardees receiving the recognition. Under the program, typical awards for DOE national laboratory staff are $500,000 per year for five years.

“Supporting America’s scientists and researchers early in their careers will ensure the United States remains at the forefront of scientific discovery,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “The funding announced today gives the recipients the resources to find the answers to some of the most complex questions as they establish themselves as experts in their fields.”

The Early Career Research Program, now in its 14th year, is designed to bolster the nation’s scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during crucial early-career years, when many scientists do their most formative work.

Casey, a physicist, was chosen for his work in fusion energy sciences. Chemist Deblonde was selected for his work in basics energy sciences.

Daniel Casey
Casey is a physicist who works in the National Ignition Facility (NIF) and Photon Science Directorate and serves as the low mode working group lead for the Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) program. His work focuses on diagnosing and assessing the impact of asymmetries in ICF implosions.

“I am so honored and humbled to be recognized for the DOE Early Career award award by the DOE Office of Science/Fusion Energy Sciences,” he said. “I have been so fortunate to work with so many great and talented colleagues at LLNL over the years. That we have been selected for this award is a recognition of how our many capabilities can contribute to growing promise of fusion energy. It’s really a reflection of the importance and the impact of the work that we do here at NIF and LLNL to be selected for this funding award. I am particularly excited because this award also is a recognition of the potential impact our research can have on inertial fusion energy.”

In ICF implosions what start as small imperfections (like perturbations in shell thickness smaller than 1%) become serious problems when they grow during the implosion. Casey compared the implosion process to crushing a balloon in your hands to the size of a pea. The build-up of pressure will stress the balloon at any weak spots until it finally breaks.

“Nevermind the large gaps between fingers crushing a balloon, if an implosion has an asymmetry (like one half is thicker than the other half) by about the height of a typical bump on a basketball relative to its diameter, that’s enough to prevent ignition in an ICF implosion,” he said. “Our job is to diagnose these problems when they happen so we can prevent them from reoccurring.”

Casey also leads a couple of experimental efforts to increase compression as a potential pathway to higher gains. He said the award funding could help enable the team to assess some important questions facing Inertial Fusion Energy systems, particularly with respect to the impact of asymmetries and mix.

Gauthier Deblonde
As a staff scientist in the Nuclear and Chemical Sciences Division and the Physical and Life Sciences Directorate, Deblonde’s work focuses on developing new techniques to decipher the chemistry of radioactive elements.

“I’m elated and honored to join the small group of scientists who have been awarded a DOE Early Career award,” he said. “This is extremely competitive because applicants are national laboratory scientists and university professors from many disciplines (physics, chemistry, biology, computing, etc.) and, in the 14 years of existence of the award, I am the first LLNL employee to get it in the category ‘Basic Energy Sciences,’ so the news felt even better. It is not just my success but also that of the colleagues and collaborators who helped me build a consistent and competitive research portfolio.”

Deblonde, who started as a postdoc in 2019 and converted to a staff scientist a year later, has always been fascinated by “difficult-to-study” materials. So, he naturally turned to nuclear sciences, and particularly the chemistry of heavy elements and “actinides” (a family of 15 radioactive elements which includes uranium and plutonium).

Most of these elements only exist in trace amounts in nature or need to be produced in nuclear reactors and, as a result, very little is known about their chemical properties. Deblonde’s research focuses on developing new strategies to probe the chemistry of these rare, toxic and elusive elements.

“Applications of this kind of research can be far-reaching and span from cancer treatments to nuclear waste management, forensics, nuclear imaging, the fundamental understanding of the periodic table and more,” Deblonde said.

He said the award funding will provide a significant boost to heavy element chemistry research at LLNL.

“The research activities related to this award will build on prior in-house investments and breakthroughs we made in the past ~4 years and I am confident we will be able to decode the chemistry (i.e., structural, electronic, magnetic, and vibrational properties) of rare, radioactive and toxic elements that have so far remained inaccessible with current laboratory techniques,” he said. “I am really hoping to push the limits of what we know about actinides and heavy elements in general. This research program also will serve as a platform to host student interns and mentor them to be the next generation of radiochemists.”

Since its inception in 2010, the Early Career Research Program has made 868 awards, with 564 awards to university researchers and 304 awards to national lab researchers.

To be eligible for the DOE award, a researcher must be an untenured, tenure-track assistant or associate professor at a U.S. academic institution or a full-time employee at a DOE national laboratory, who received a Ph.D. within the past 10 years. Research topics are required to fall within one of the Department's Office of Science's eight major program offices:

  • Accelerator R&D and Production
  • Advanced Scientific Computing Research
  • Basic Energy Sciences
  • Biological and Environmental Research
  • Fusion Energy Sciences
  • High Energy Physics
  • Nuclear Physics

Awardees were selected from a large pool of university- and national laboratory-based applicants. The selection was based on peer review by outside scientific experts.