Meet LLNL: polymer chemist Johanna Schwartz

Johanna Schwartz (Download Image)

As a polymer chemist, Johanna Schwartz supports sustainability and polymer additive manufacturing at the Laboratory. Watch this video to learn more. (Photo: Blaise Douros/LLNL)


As a Jewish American, Johanna Schwartz believes she’s benefited from others’ mitzvah through mentorship, being included in team settings and receiving support when navigating life and career-path decisions. In Hebrew, mitzvah translates to commandment, but is generally understood as “a good deed,” or conscious acts of empathy and kindness. These decisions led her to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) as a postdoctoral researcher in 2019, and led soon after to a role as staff scientist. Schwartz is now on a mission to pay it forward to curious minds seeking career exploration through thoughtful conversations, volunteering, mentoring and sharing her journey.

LLNL is home to more than 300 postdocs who conduct world-class research in a multidisciplinary environment. LLNL is a unique, collegial atmosphere for postdocs where they’re encouraged to conduct research that aligns with their career interests. As a result, many postdocs continue their journey at the Lab to become staff scientists. This became Schwartz’ journey to becoming a polymer chemist.

During their tenure, postdocs in LLNL’s Postdoc Program are expected to conduct applied research that is publishable in peer-reviewed journals, develop scientific expertise in their field of research, present their research at national and international meetings and gain experience in writing research proposals. Schwartz is a testament to this. Working in the Lab’s Materials Science Division (MSD) in the Physical and Life Sciences (PLS) Directorate, Schwartz conducts 3D printing research. Through her work, Schwartz makes resins for 3D printing, a time-intensive stepwise iteration process. Her work advances the chemistries and materials for 3D-printing systems and then uses 3D printing toward targeted applications. Examples include printing silicone dampeners and microfluidics, using microwave volumetric additive manufacturing to print ceramics for solar energy systems and using multiwavelength two photon printing to print capsules for LLNL’s National Ignition Facility. Schwartz is also building multi-material 3D printers as tools for chemistry and formulations optimization.

Schwartz earned her degrees in chemistry from Bard College at Simon’s Rock (B.A.) and the University of Washington, Seattle (M.A.) before earning her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Schwartz’s parents played an important role in her upbringing. They encouraged her and her two siblings to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields at a young age, including grad school. “I tried all the sciences,” Schwartz said. “After doing several internships in engineering and polymer science, I found my niche in chemistry.” Schwartz also credits her journey in polymer chemistry to her graduate mentor, AJ Boydston, while studying at University of Washington, Seattle.

“I wanted to continue with 3D printing research in my postdoc. When I thought about what type and where I would want to do the research, I really wanted to have free reign to pursue chemistries that interested me,” she said. “As a chemist, I wanted to be among engineers. I wanted to find chemical solutions for engineering problems and be at the forefront of creating different engineering systems. When I learned about LLNL through Materials Engineering Division leader Chris Spadaccini, I knew the Lab was the place for me. It was where I could integrate into collaborative teams and be a subject-matter expert in chemistry.”

Schwartz shares that mentorship is key in STEM environments. As a woman in STEM, she believes that support for women and other underrepresented groups to pursue STEM fields has improved but can continue to improve. To help boost STEM awareness efforts and support in the workplace, she is involved with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Women’s Association (LLLWA) employee resource group and their Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) focus group. She also is a PLS inclusion, diversity, equity and accountability (IDEA) volunteer, and attends conferences and career panels to help others explore opportunities in STEM at LLNL. Being involved with LLLWA, WISE and IDEA has allowed Schwartz to build a purposeful career at the Lab.

Furthermore, Schwartz makes good use of the Lab’s leadership and development training opportunities, particularly when it comes to creating a culture of success. As a principal investigator, she currently oversees more than 20 scientists and researchers studying 3D-printing chemistries, including energy materials, automated screening and volumetric additive manufacturing. She continues to challenge herself by having crucial conversations that empower her teams to bring the best ideas and solutions to the workplace. She is an advocate for creating belonging and cultivating solutions to difficult questions.

Today, Schwartz keeps busy by tapping into her hobbies, which include gardening, outdoor adventures, crafting and playing video games. She seeks ways to pay it forward through mitzvah by volunteering for the Lab’s Science on Saturday programs and by mentoring students, including those in the Livermore Lab Foundation’s internship program.

At LLNL, our staff are our greatest asset. LLNL continues to act on its commitment to foster strong values and a culture that embraces inclusion, diversity, equity and accountability. We encourage all to explore our available careers and apply.