Intern follows his lifelong passion for science to LLNL

Elias Anwar, a NIF&PS Summer Scholar Program intern at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), has long considered science a perfect fit for his logic-driven mind and personality.

“Growing up, science has always been interesting to me,” said Anwar, who is from Northern Virginia. “It was cooler than English or history, and moving from middle school to high school, science and math were of interest to me. I found it more intriguing — it was logical, with very little subjective reasoning and explanation.”

Anwar, who graduated this year with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Virginia, is entering his second year as a NIF&PS Summer Scholar on the project he began last year: laser-induced dewetting of optically engineered materials.

Dewetting is the process of thin film rupturing and forming droplets from the surface of the film. It has been used to fabricate metasurfaces. Laser-induced dewetting enables the fabrication of nanostructures for applications such as nanophotonics, microelectronics and data storage.

Dewetting is fundamentally governed by Van der Waals forces, which are weak electrostatic forces that attract neutral molecules to one another; the dynamics of the phenomenon are not well controlled or understood. Optically engineered substrates, such as metallic thin films, metamaterials, cavities and plasmonic structures can be used to control physical and chemical phenomena.

This year, Anwar is performing electromagnetic simulations (with COMSOL Multiphysics, a software package for various physics and engineering applications) to understand electric field distributions during dewetting. In addition, he will complete what he started last year, including a more thorough investigation of dewetting behavior: exploring dewetting on metamaterial samples and characterizing the morphology of dewetted regions.

In the NIF&PS Summer Scholar Program’s year-end poster symposium on Aug. 2, Anwar took first place in the graduate division in the People’s Choice awards. His winning poster was titled, "Laser-induced dewetting in vicinity of optically engineered materials.”

“Elias has demonstrated great passion for science and learning new techniques, especially hands-on work with lasers,” said LLNL research scientist Thej Tumkur Umanath, Anwar’s mentor. “It has been a pleasure to mentor Elias and witness his growth as a budding scientist with interest in taking up exciting research in graduate school.”

Anwar’s path to LLNL began when he was a sophomore at Norfolk State, researching the university’s program in materials science. One thing led to another, and Anwar joined the Consortium for Research and Education in Materials Science and Photonics Engineering (NoVEL Consortium).

The consortium’s goal is to strengthen the research and education capabilities of three Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) — Norfolk State University, Virginia State University, and Elizabeth City State University — through the research areas of materials science and photonics, which are the topics of interest to the National Nuclear Enterprise (NSE), LLNL and NIF&PS.

The partnership between the HBCUs and LLNL provides a resource pipeline for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students who have been traditionally overlooked.

Anwar said the consortium was crucial in developing his career skills, such as preparing resumes, conducting interviews, presenting science work at conferences and writing research papers. When it came time to apply for internships, Anwar was interested in working at LLNL.

“I think the type of research that I saw here or heard about here — at least when it came to light-matter interactions — was pretty much exactly what I was looking for,” he said. “I was asked, ‘What are your interests? What do you like to study and research?’ Usually, the first thing I say is, ‘light-matter interactions.’ Hearing about Lawrence Livermore, its laser program, NIF, it has a lot of capabilities. When it comes to implementation and training, I think that’s what really attracted me.”

Anwar found the internship program rewarding during his first year in 2022.

“I learned a lot, especially coming from a chemistry background going into materials science and physics,” he said. “It was definitely a neat experience. It was very beneficial, and going from that summer into the school year, it helped in my scientific maturing.”

While he was at the Lab last year, Anwar was among a group of HBCU students and faculty who participated in a weeklong program at LLNL to learn about internships, job opportunities and career paths. He and several other African American students had a luncheon with the African American Body of Laboratory Employees (ABLE). The LLNL employee resource group (ERG) is an inclusive organization that provides a forum for employees and guests to promote awareness of Black, African, African American and Caribbean culture.

Anwar spoke highly of the Lab’s culture.

“I think it’s really good,” he said. “Everyone is very cordial and professional. The way the environment is set up, you have an office, but it’s not too much of an office feel. It’s more like, ‘We get things done, but we keep it light as well.’ I think they have a good balance here.”

As for the future, Anwar plans to continue at Norfolk State for a Ph.D. in materials science, primarily centered on optical materials and diagnostics.

Being at LLNL has made a clear impression on Anwar, who says he “definitely wants to work at a national lab — interning here has solidified that for me. Which national lab is the hardest part for me to answer.

“I love the work environment at Livermore — it’s very nice,” he said. “The only convincing I would need is getting used to California in general. Living here in the summer is nice. I enjoy it, but I’m trying to visualize living over here for a long period of time, and I’m trying to weigh the options versus family and everything else on the East Coast. The job itself is perfect.”

In his spare time, Anwar likes to explore the Bay Area, play basketball, read and exercise.

– Jon Kawamoto