Matthew Levy, a Lawrence Scholar in the Physics Division at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), has been awarded the prestigious Newton International Fellowship by the Royal Society of the United Kingdom (UK).
The highly competitive fellowship program makes 40 awards per year across all disciplines of the sciences and humanities, providing the opportunity for the best early stage postdoctoral researchers from all over the world to work at UK research institutions for a period of two years. Levy is the first American physicist to become a Newton Fellow and will carry out his research at the University of Oxford.
“Matthew has been identified as one of America’s brightest theoretical plasma physicists to have graduated in the past decade. This has been recognized by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in its award of the Lawrence Scholarship in 2011,” said Peter Norreys, Levy’s sponsor and professor of Inertial Fusion Science at the University of Oxford and Plasma Physics group leader at the Central Laser Facility, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. “Now the UK’s Royal Society, the world’s oldest and most eminent scientific academy in continuous existence, also has spotted Matthew’s talent and future potential by its award of the prestigious Newton International Fellowship.”
As a Newton Fellow, Levy's research will involve devising new ways to harness the immensely strong electromagnetic fields comprising high power laser light to test aspects of the nonlinear quantum vacuum in the laboratory.
"The laser power levels required to access this exotic regime are seven orders of magnitude beyond what has been demonstrated using contemporary laser amplification technology," Levy said. “Therefore, if we are to access this promising regime, sophisticated physics-based techniques are needed.”
Levy has been funded to develop such techniques based on relativistic laser-plasma interactions, with emphasis on methods involving intense coherent high harmonic generation. According to Levy, “the successful implementation of this program has the potential to open a new class of high power laser applications.”
Key tenants of the research program build on work carried out at LLNL with Lab physicists, added Levy. “In order to succeed, we will need to develop an advanced understanding of the complex laser absorption processes taking place at the 10-petawatt scale and beyond.”
This research extends the petawatt laser absorption research Levy conducted first as an Institute for Laser Science Applications (ILSA) summer intern and then as a Lawrence Scholar under the auspices of LLNL physicist Scott Wilks, and as a graduate student under Professor Matthew Baring at Rice University.
John Knezovich, LLNL’s director of University Relations and manager of the Graduate Scholar Program, said: “Our scholar program is successful when students advance their careers through research conducted at the Laboratory and build on collaborations that were forged here. We look forward to continued interactions with Matthew as his career advances.”
“I first became acquainted with Matthew in 2010 when he was a summer intern student employee within ILSA,” added Don Correll, director of the Institute for Laser Science and Applications and program manager for Fusion Energy Sciences. “I am very pleased to see that Matthew’s summer internship helped with his transition to the Lab’s Graduate Scholar Program and ultimately being selected for the prestigious Newton International Fellowship.”
According to Levy, it is key to continue to collaborate with physicists at LLNL. “An essential goal of the Newton Fellows is to enhance ties and collaborations between the UK and countries around world,” he said. “Working together with the laser experts at LLNL will be central to carrying out this cutting-edge research and continuing to build the future of our field of high energy density physics.”
Supporting these efforts, Levy will become a visiting scientist at LLNL and an affiliated scientist at the Stanford Institute for Material Energy Sciences, a joint institute between Stanford University and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.
In addition to the Newton Fellowship, Levy has been elected a Junior Research Fellow of Wolfson College at the University of Oxford, a position lasting up to six years. As a fellow of Wolfson, Levy will reside in the college, be responsible for mentoring Oxford students and have the opportunity to participate in the governance of the college.
Levy is set to begin these positions in January 2015.