Alan M. Volpe died March 10. He was 65.
Volpe was an isotope geochemist with a Ph.D. from UC San Diego, Scripps Institute of Oceanography (1988). He investigated the chemistry of the earth's ocean, crust and mantle, including research in the Marianas Trench as a scientific crew member aboard the deep submergence vehicle Alvin. He pursued postdoctoral work at Los Alamos National Lab before joining Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1991 as a staff scientist with expertise in inorganic mass spectrometry and isotope geochemistry. At LLNL, he worked on defense and national security programs that served national interests on behalf of the Defense, Energy, Homeland Security and Justice departments.
Volpe was a passionate scientist who had a significant impact both at the Lab and in the wider science community. He was instrumental in establishing groundwater monitoring programs at LLNL and was first to identify the presence of depleted uranium in groundwater and soils from Site 300. His scientific rigor was such that bottles of ultrapure water used in sampling were referred to as “Volpe water.” The groundwater monitoring program that he was instrumental in setting up more than 20 years ago is still in existence.
Volpe went on to develop a coastal ocean observation system for trace metals and radionuclides. He took an inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometer (ICPMS) to sea on several expeditions. These cruises demonstrated the concept and made new scientific discoveries, such as measuring the lowest recorded concentrations of barium in the surface ocean and ruling out one potential mechanism for its depletion.
In the early 2000s, he worked at the Forensic Science Center developing the strategy, capabilities and infrastructure to support federal law enforcement in cases involving WMD materials. He received funding from the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the feasibility of using the stable isotopic composition of carbon, oxygen and nitrogen in toxic industrial chemicals to trace these chemicals to specific production facilities. This approach opened up a new vein of research that continues to be funded at LLNL. For his work at the Forensic Science Center, he received a 2006 Directorate Award from the Nonproliferation, Homeland and International Security Directorate.
Later in his career, Volpe worked in the Lawrence Livermore Classification Office, bringing to the office the value of his extensive career as a practicing scientist, and project and program manager in national security research and development. He was considered the expert in authoring focused, comprehensive communications to research leads in multiple areas of technical specialty within the Laboratory. He contributed to the development of educational works to ensure the scientific teams were using the correct guidance for national-level publications when government guidance was behind new and fast-breaking technologies. His work frequently became the genesis of agency-wide guidance.
In his earlier life, Volpe received a bachelor’s degree in classics from Washington University in 1973, and a bachelor’s of science degree in geology from Portland State University in 1982. In the years between the two degrees, Volpe worked as a journeyman carpenter. His skilled craftsmanship continued throughout his life as he made furniture that are works of art.
The light of his life was his family. He was a devoted father who spent time with his two sons, honoring their interests by getting involved in Boy Scouts as a mentor and in local baseball leagues as a coach, and later passing on his skill as a woodworker. He enjoyed sharing the history, strategy and statistics of professional baseball and basketball teams. He kept a bountiful and beautiful vegetable garden, which added to his talent as a gifted cook. He traveled widely with his wife and family.
His integrity, loyalty and passion for life, along with a ready sense of humor, made him a remarkable person to know and to work with.
Volpe is survived by his wife of 36 years, Constance Anderson; sons, Travis Volpe and Dr. Tristan Volpe; daughter-in-law, Manar Hassan; his brother, Dr. Bruce Volpe; sisters-in-law, Dr. Betty Diamond, Charlotte Anderson, Robin Reid Anderson; and brother-in-law, Bryan Anderson; as well as his nieces, Rebecca and Susanna Volpe, Claire and Jill Fountain; nephews, Erik and Rory Anderson; the Hassan family and his friends and colleagues who meant so much to him.