Sept. 9, 2022
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Lab scientist wins outstanding doctoral thesis award from American Physical Society

Michael Padilla, padilla37 [at] llnl.gov, 925-341-8692

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) scientist Alison Ruth Christopherson has earned the American Physical Society’s (APS) Marshall N. Rosenbluth Outstanding Doctoral Thesis award.

The award recognizes exceptional early-career scientists who have performed original thesis work of outstanding scientific quality and achievement in the area of plasma physics.

Christopherson was honored “for theories of fusion alpha heating and metrics to assess proximity to thermonuclear ignition in inertially confined plasmas, and for the development of a novel measurement of hot electron preheat and its spatial distribution in direct-drive laser fusion.”

“It is an honor to receive an award named after the extraordinary scientist Marshall Rosenbluth whose brilliance laid the foundations for multiple fields within plasma physics,” Christopherson said. “He set the bar impossibly high for the rest of us.”

Christopherson acknowledged that the accomplishments detailed in her thesis would not have been possible without the support of her adviser Riccardo Betti and her colleagues at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics who assisted with this research. “Inertial confinement fusion is a team oriented field and this award reflects their contributions as well,” she added. 

Omar Hurricane, chief scientist for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory inertial confinement fusion (ICF) program, co-nominated Christopherson for the award. 

“Marshall Rosenbluth was arguably the greatest fusion plasma theorist of his generation,” Hurricane said. “These days in plasma physics simulations have displaced theory, and the problem is particularly acute for ICF. As a result, there are very few true theorists being generated by plasma physics programs and fewer still in the subspecialty of ICF or high energy density physics. Alison is a rare exception, choosing to pursue theory as a graduate student and studying under another rare ICF theorist, Riccardo Betti.”

Hurricane said an important aspect of Christopherson’s theory work is that her work has been tied to reality through experiments and cross-checked with simulations.

“The timing of Alison’s work has been very complementary to our own work here at LLNL and has made an impact upon our thinking about the physics,” Hurricane said. “Starting her graduate studies in 2013 was fortuitous timing because an untapped physics regime [of the transition to significant alpha-heating in experiments at NIF] revealed itself around that same time.”

The award consists of $2,000, a certificate and a registration waiver to give an invited talk on the recipient’s doctoral research at the annual meeting of the APS Division of Plasma Physics (DPP). Christopherson will receive the award at the annual DPP awards banquet in October.