May 26, 2016
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Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Meet two STEM mentors

Carrie L Martin, martin59 [at], (925) 424-4715

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the Asian Pacific American Council (APAC) and the Office of Strategic Diversity and Inclusion Programs at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) are spotlighting employees of Asian heritage, specifically focused on the employees’ educational background, work at the lab and volunteer efforts.

This profile features two accomplished employees who enjoy mentoring others through educational outreach. Zhi Liao is a laser physicist in charge of his directorate’s scholar program and outreach events, and Rick Roses is a federal fire protection engineer and explosives safety engineer who mentors underserved communities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.


Zhi Liao

Job: Laser physicist

Educational background: Bachelor’s in optical engineering, University of Rochester (1995); master’s in optical engineering, University of Rochester (1996)  and Ph.D. in optical engineering, University of Rochester (2000).


Zhi Liao initially came to LLNL as a summer intern working on the AVLIS program, an experience that opened his eyes not only to the Laboratory and its laser research, but also to the career prospect of laser physicist. After graduate school, he officially joined the Laboratory in 2001 in the NIF & Photon Science (NIF&PS) Directorate. "The reason I wanted to work here was simple,"  Liao said. "This is the premier laboratory for laser development and our work can be applied to a variety of scientific endeavors to benefit all."

Liao specializes in nonlinear optics, adaptive optics and laser-induced optic damage and has contributed to many of LLNL’s successful laser projects over the years, such as the fiber laser guide star, alkali laser, advanced radiographic capability (ARC), the mercury laser and the National Ignition Facility (NIF). Currently, he works in developing models for predicting optic lifetime for NIF. 

"The ability to work on different laser systems is what I like the most. It is an intellectually stimulating environment that allows you to keep pushing the boundary of laser science and technology, while also increasing the breath of your exposure because of the differences in applications."     

In 2014, Liao was named a senior member of the Optical Society of America (OSA), an international society for optics and photonics scientists, engineers and educators, a distinction for which he is very proud. Senior-member status recognizes members with more than 10 years of significant experience and professional accomplishments or service in their fields.

Mentoring others and promoting the Lab through educational outreach is what Liao enjoys most. He has served as the director for NIF’s summer scholars program for more than a decade, bringing close to 400 students from all over the world to work here. He also has developed a number of laser demonstrations for NIF, such as the Laser Fountain and Laser DJ that have been successfully displayed across the country at various events and science festivals.

"I take pride in my efforts that contribute to the Lab’s mission of inspiring young minds toward STEM education and careers, and in promoting diversity and inclusion. This is a different facet of work for me, a new challenge that I have found to be exhilarating and rewarding. It is an avenue that allows me to express the creative side of me."

Liao has been inspired in a variety of ways. "My upbringing as Asian American has had a strong influence on me," Liao said. "My parents, Chinese immigrants who spent their life working in restaurants, instilled in me a strong work ethic and the importance of education. Education has always been my top priority. While I was always a good student in grammar school in China and then in middle and high school in Florida, I had no idea what was possible for me. The goal was simply go to college and get a better job. Teachers along the way in high school and college saw the potential in me, mentored me and inspired confidence in me to go to a top university. The summer internship at LLNL is what inspired me to go to post-graduate school and pursue a laser physics career.

"Growing up in America has given me the perspective that it’s OK to be an individual," Liao said. "It is OK to standout and be yourself, and you don’t have to conform to the norm. More than anything, I think the most important American value is the idea of the 'American Dream,' the ethos that everything is possible if you work hard."

Three words Liao uses to describe himself are curious, friendly and fun. Liao loves spending time with his family for travel and foodl. He also enjoys playing sports, such as basketball, soccer and flag football. "I enjoy the exercise, the camaraderie and the thrill of competition," he said.


Rick Roses

Job: Federal fire protection engineer and explosives safety engineer

Educational background: Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, University of California, Berkeley (1984) and a master’s in national resource strategy, National Defense University (2010).


Rick Roses started working at the Laboratory’s Livermore Field Office in 2006 as a fire protection subject matter expert (SME) and functional area manager for fire protection safety. His job also includes working as an explosives safety SME and functional area manager for explosives safety, CAS functional area manager, Integrated Assessment Planning program lead and Non-Proliferation program manager.

"I wanted to work at the Lab first and foremost to serve my country, and also to end my career with federal service," Roses said. "There were many factors about LLNL that appealed to me, such as the campus environment, work-life flexibility and the proximity to leading-edge science. I take pride in serving the U.S. government, contributing to the national security and acting as the taxpayer’s steward of our national resources (money, people and infrastructure)."

Roses likes helping others by volunteering his time in a wide array of work-related and extracurricular activities, including Boy Scouts, Little League baseball, music and athletic boosters and more. "When I can, I mentor and tutor underserved communities on STEM and general education," he said.

Roses has volunteered his time tutoring underserved students in Amidon-Bowen Elementary School in Washington, D.C., and has given a presentation about LLNL women and minority STEM role models at the Inspire Learning Institute’s STEM Summer Camp, using multiple learning modes to engage the students. He also taught the students simple machine concepts (levers, pulleys, etc.) and gave an introduction to robotics using Lego products. Currently, Roses is participating in a series of STEM education webinars offered by the Department of Energy.

"Volunteering for STEM is gratifying and rewarding," Rosas said. It feels good knowing that you helped others learn about and gain appreciation of the STEM fields, and hopefully leading to better opportunities in the future.

"My mother has been my greatest inspiration in life, due to her upbringing to be industrious and her emphasis on moral and ethical virtues," he said. "She led by example, immigrating to the U.S. soon after my father died, holding two jobs as a single mother to raise four kids, all while maintaining her integrity and her values. Even though she had a higher level occupation in the Philippines with a degree in commerce, she worked at whatever job she could find to provide and support her family. As a minority woman immigrant, her job prospects were limited. She made sacrifices to provide her children with the best opportunities, and without any complaints or any social service assistance.

"Other role models of mine include relatives who were indomitable, dedicated and morally steadfast, as well as teachers and professional mentors that inspired and motivated me to do better. Serving in the U.S. Marine Corps showed me that anything is possible, and that sacrifice is bearable with the right cause. Finally, religion and Christian values are my constant inspiration and guide."

Roses' upbringing and stories of his ancestors have influenced who he is today. "My mother, as a young teenager, assisted the guerrilla fighters in World War II by sending messages through hidden notes, while my father similarly and separately assisted in carrying ammo and supplies. My grandfather, retired from the U.S. Navy, endured two years of torture and eventual execution in WWII, without losing his integrity or principles. A grand uncle, who was a fearless go-getter, survived the Bataan Death March and later became a guerrilla fighter. All of these stories are always at the back of my mind and inspire me to do the right thing and serve others."

Roses describes himself as family-oriented, independent and open-minded. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife, meeting new people, appreciating new cultures, learning new languages and spending time with his 10 grandchildren. When time permits, Roses also enjoys gardening and other outdoor activities.