Geophysicist characterizes the earth while forming community at Livermore

Chris-Morency (Download Image)

Christina “Chris” Morency is a geophysicist in the Physical and Life Sciences (PLS) Directorate’s Atmospheric, Earth, and Energy Division, studying subsurface phenomena deep underground. Outside of her research role, she serves as PLS’s Employee Resource Group (ERG) liaison, engaging with ERGs to support the hiring and retention of a diverse workforce. 

Geophysicist Christina “Chris” Morency’s research has led her around the globe to demystify the world beneath our feet. Since arriving at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in 2011, she has held leadership roles on numerous research teams and has worked diligently to make Lawrence Livermore a welcoming place for all.

Originally from France, Morency said she is “technically a chemical engineer by training” due to the countrys highly specialized education system of engineering schools, where she earned the equivalent to a master of science in engineering. Shifting trajectory, she later pursued a Ph.D. in geophysics, which led her to an associate researcher position at Princeton University.

“I like to say over the course of my postdoctoral experiences, I moved from the Earth’s interior up to the surface, from million year-long to minute-long phenomena. I originally focused on numerical models to describe mantle convection,” Morency said.

Morency’s subsequent research interests were heavily impacted by a chance encounter with Artie Rogers from Livermore’s Seismology Group. After learning more about LLNL’s research and Rodgers’ group, Morency was later encouraged to apply for a position at Livermore, where Rodgers would become her mentor. “The rest is history,” Morency said. “Today, my work involves methods of imaging and characterizing the Earth’s subsurface at global, regional and reservoir scales. For this, we interpret earthquake and ground motion data, which is relevant to programs like nuclear explosion monitoring, carbon storage and geothermal energy.”

Research spanning disciplines and continents

Because geophysics and seismology have so many real-world applications, especially within Livermore’s mission space, a diverse range of research opportunities are available at LLNL for researchers like Morency. She is based in the Physical and Life Sciences (PLS) Directorate’s Atmospheric, Earth, and Energy Division and is currently involved in several projects where she serves as a key technical adviser.

Additionally, Morency is the principal investigator of a project for developing a tool that utilizes the physical coupling between seismic and electromagnetic phenomena in porous media to detect and visualize subsurface fluid flow. “Ever since it gained Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program funding in 2017, this project has been my baby. Our new technique will combine seismic and electromagnetic methods for geothermal reservoir monitoring and assessment,” she said.

“Picture the solid yet porous medium that exists underground,” she said, “and now realize that there are ions naturally existing in the soil that jostle back and forth during a seismic event. Their motion generates an electric current. These seismoelectric effects are neat but tricky to numerically model since they tie together seismic and electromagnetic wave properties.” Despite being theorized and observed nearly a century ago, the phenomenon has only recently become interpretable using high-performance computing.

Morency’s project also is highly collaborative, with international partners based in France and Norway. “It’s exciting that I regularly get to work alongside people at LLNL and across the globe with expertise in experimental processes, numerical modeling and fieldwork,” she said.

Advocating for respect

For her first few years at Livermore, Morency admits she was “laser-focused” on moving her work forward and establishing professional relationships. In time, she became aware of the Laboratory’s host of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) voluntary, employee-led organizations connected by common interests, bonds and backgrounds — and grew eager to get involved in something outside of her typical research. Not long after, in 2017, she joined the leadership team of the LLNL Pride ERG. “It’s been so rewarding to support the queer community here. We get to tell existing employees, those arriving at Livermore for the first time and those curious about the Lab: ‘You are welcome. You have support. You can be authentic. You can be visible.’”

The group’s efforts go beyond creating an inclusive space for members by also prioritizing advocacy within and beyond the Livermore square mile. “We want people to be able to interact respectfully. To support this, as an example, we developed educational resources which we presented across the Laboratory on how to acknowledge and respect the pronouns someone uses. The fact that people have embraced our material says a lot about where LLNL is in terms of listening and caring for the needs of its community.” Morency also is a member of the African American Body of Laboratory Employees, whom she applauds for their “great work with providing scholarships, supporting youth in STEM and recruiting amazing talent” at Livermore.

Her involvement with multiple ERGs and advocacy for diverse points of view at LLNL and within the broader research community has led to her position as PLS ERG liaison. In this role, she aims to improve visibility of ERGs, leverage the groups for the hiring and retention of a diverse workforce and coordinate with others in her directorate who are engaged in inclusion, diversity, equity, and accountability efforts.

Life outside the Lab

Forging connections is important to Morency, who works remotely three days a week. After living in Oakland for the past decade, she recently made the move to Marin County, where she lives with her wife and two cats. Morency strongly supports the hybrid workplace because it allows her needed flexibility, which translates into improved productivity — factors she wishes to emphasize as a member of the newly launched Remote Worker and Hybrid Teams ERG.

When the workday ends, she and her wife continue to explore the offerings of the North Bay, which boasts convenient access to natural splendor. “In a lot of ways, I’m led by my wife. She’s a theater buff and a previous theater fight director — yes, there is such a thing. She makes sure we regularly attend theater shows, though I’m more of a Marvel fan, as evidenced by all the bobbleheads and action figures in my home office.”

Morency’s other big passion is women’s soccer; she kept a close eye on the recently concluded 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. “I’m a big supporter of the U.S. Women’s national team, and I’m very excited for the new women’s team coming to the San Francisco Bay Area, Bay FC [football club].”

While her research moves steadily ahead, Morency acknowledges that continued advocacy for many groups is a must. “It’s been an extremely tough few years for the queer community. I have witnessed, and believe, that folks at Livermore are open to learning, whether it’s new scientific concepts in the laboratory or about more social and cultural awareness outside the Lab.”

— Elliot Jaffe, TID