A Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) postdoc who was mentored by Lab scientist Ian Hutcheon has been named the first recipient of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) new fellowship that honors Hutcheon.
David Weisz, who has worked at the Lab since August as a chemist in the Chemical and Isotopic Signatures Group, has been selected to receive the “Dr. Ian Hutcheon Post-Doctoral Fellowship.”
The two-year fellowship, with a research grant of $300,000 for each year, is provided by the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center (NTNFC) of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office within DHS.
“The award is a recognition of Ian’s central role in the development of nuclear forensics and, in particular, his insistence on putting the discipline on a firm scientific footing,” said Mike Kristo, the leader for the Chemical and Isotopic Signatures Group within LLNL’s Physical and Life Sciences Directorate.
A longtime nuclear forensics expert and the former leader of the Chemical and Isotopic Signatures Group in LLNL’s Nuclear and Chemical Sciences Division, Hutcheon passed away March 26, 2015.
“Obviously, we’re very pleased that the NTNFC has established this very prestigious fellowship in honor of Ian,” Kristo said.
“This is an award that is open to postdocs at all of the national laboratories, but it was important to me that the first award come back to LLNL. In particular, I’m happy that David, who had a personal connection to Ian, won the first award.”
Weisz, 31, who earned his Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of California, Berkeley last July, had been mentored for two years by Hutcheon and UC Berkeley nuclear engineering professor Stan Prussin, as he worked toward his doctorate.
“I think it is an incredible honor to receive the Hutcheon Fellowship,” said Weisz, whose fellowship will run through March 2019. During this period, he will be mentored by two researchers in the Lab’s Nuclear and Chemical Sciences Division -- Mike Savina, a physical chemist, and Tim Rose, a radiochemist.
Hutcheon and Prussin, who were good friends, died within a few months of each other in 2015. Kim Knight, a geochemist in the Chemical and Isotopic Signatures Group, mentored Weisz after their passing through to the completion of his Ph.D.
“Working with the two of them was very inspiring, especially to see two people who were so passionate about nuclear forensics and the whole scientific process,” Weisz said.
“They made sure that the students they mentored were doing things the way they should be done. They had high expectations for the work we were doing. And they held us to the same high standards to which they held themselves.”
Because of Hutcheon’s position and reputation, people might think that he wouldn’t have had the time to mentor students, Weisz said.
“Despite that expectation, Ian not only had time, but he prioritized the time he would spend with us students. I never felt like I couldn’t communicate with him or bounce ideas off him. He always made sure we had time to discuss ideas for my thesis.”
The purpose of the “Dr. Ian Hutcheon Post-Doctoral Fellowship” is to attract future leaders to the field of nuclear forensics, according to Amalie Zeitoun, the manager for DHS’ National Nuclear Forensics Expertise Development Program (NNFEDP).
“This fellowship is a part of the NNFEDP launched in 2008 by DHS to reverse declining trends in scientists trained in nuclear forensics and to develop the next generation of U.S. nuclear forensic scientists,” Zeitoun said.
“It is dedicated to honor the late Dr. Hutcheon because he was one of the foundational figures in nuclear forensics and because of his tireless commitment to fostering the best nuclear forensics science while concurrently bringing up new talent.”
Under his fellowship, Weisz will conduct research into the fundamental physics and chemistry of fallout formation with applications to post-detonation nuclear forensics. In his research, Weisz will collaborate with a multidisciplinary team of Livermore scientists, including Brett Isselhardt, a nuclear engineer in the Nuclear and Chemical Sciences Division, as well as Jonathan Crowhurst, a physicist in the Materials Science Division.
He will explore high-temperature uranium chemistry in cooling plasmas using emission spectroscopy and Resonance Ionization Mass Spectrometry (RIMS), which uses lasers to selectively ionize atoms for mass spectrometry analysis.
“We’re trying to understand the formation of nuclear fallout and how chemistry happens in the fireball,” Weisz said.
A second fellowship to recognize Hutcheon, the Ian Hutcheon Memorial Fellowship, has been created by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)’s Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation (DNN).
The NNSA’s first Ian Hutcheon Memorial Fellowship was awarded in February 2016 by then-Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
The NNSA fellowship, which was awarded to Thomas Gray, a nonproliferation graduate fellow in the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, consists of a two-year assignment as a junior professional officer in support of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Division of Nuclear Security.
Hutcheon’s awards in recent years included being named a Distinguished Member of Technical Staff at the Laboratory; receiving the Physical and Life Sciences’ Outstanding Postdoc Mentor award in 2010; and having a newly discovered mineral in the Allende meteorite named in his honor, Hutcheonite.
In his 22 years at LLNL, Hutcheon built the Chemical and Isotopic Signatures Group from himself, two others and one secondary ion mass spectrometer, to a team of 38 (scientists, postdocs, graduate students and technicians), filling Bldg.151 with multiple mass spectrometry labs, a scanning electron microscope, other analytical equipment and sample prep labs. The breadth of study within the group includes nucleosynthesis; formation and evolution of meteorites and planets; mineralogy and petrology of unequilibrated meteorites; sub-cellular imaging of biological samples and isotope tracing into cells of all types; environmental microbiology; and nuclear forensics and attribution.