High Energy Density Science
What We Do
Who We Are
Our staff members are creative and visionary laser and plasma physicists, materials scientists, chemists, computer scientists, engineers, technicians and analysts supported by health and safety experts and administrators. Meet a few of the people who work in high energy density science:
Improving fusion performance is tricky business. Tiny deviations from perfect spherical symmetry can lead to significant degradation of inertial confinement fusion (ICF) implosions. But tracking down those defects is devilishly difficult. That’s exactly the problem Dan Casey is working to solve. “I came here to be on the front lines, and I am richly rewarded with fascinating and challenging problems every day,” says Dan. “I often feel like my job is to solve experimental puzzles, and I love puzzles!”
Dan is a physicist studying the properties and performance of ICF implosions at the National Ignition Facility. He works with a team that focuses on understanding 3D areal-density asymmetries that can damage and ultimately impact implosion quality. Dan is also the experimental co-lead for a campaign to test the role of hydrodynamic instabilities in degrading implosion compression, a key metric to achieving ignition and high gain. His work led to his 2019 selection for the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineers, an honor he described as “extraordinary and humbling.”
“One of the things I have really come to value about Livermore is the people,” he says. “The facilities are second to none, but the Lab’s most precious resources are the talented and brilliant people attracted to the important work we do here.”
Dan holds a Ph.D. in nuclear science and engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was one of the first graduates of the NIF‒MIT Ph.D. Thesis Program.
Dayne Fratanduono has designed and executed experiments on leading high energy density (HED) research facilities including NIF, Sandia’s Z Machine, the OMEGA Laser Facility at the University of Rochester, the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory and the Linac Coherent Light Source at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. As an expert in condensed matter physics, Dayne has observed that valuable contributions can be made as early as the postdoctoral research career level. “LLNL’s postdocs play a unique and important role bearing new discoveries in the quest for scientific truth and knowledge within HED science,” he says.
In an assignment with the National Nuclear Security Administration in Washington, D.C., Dayne provided technical and advisory expertise to federal program managers in the areas of HED physics, materials science and advanced light source strategies. On returning to LLNL, he was selected as co-program working leader for Condensed Matter Physics within the Focused Material Science element of the Weapon Physics and Design Program. In this role, Dayne and team members explore experimental platforms and diagnostic probes to measure properties of stockpile materials.
Dayne holds a Ph.D. and an M.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Rochester and a B.S. in physics and a B.S. in mechanical engineering, both from Clarkson University.
No one anticipated how Kelli Humbird’s summer internship at Lawrence Livermore would fuel her doctoral research and future career. While an intern with the Weapons and Complex Integration team, Kelli trained a machine learning model to interpolate between tens of thousands of Trinity supercomputer data points generated from nine parameters like various asymmetries, drive multipliers and gas-fill densities that affect the quality of inertial confinement fusion implosions. Kelli’s work evolved into a DOE-funded Laboratory Directed Research and Development project, and she became a Livermore Graduate Scholar while completing her Ph.D.
Kelli views her internship work as a “happy accident.” She says, “I was at the right place at the right time and given the right dataset. None of us were expecting a summer project to turn into something this big.” Now a design physicist at Livermore, she continues to apply machine learning tools to traditional weapons physics models. Kelli is also a member of the Global Security Directorate’s Nuclear Forensics Group’s emergency response team and works on projects that build machine learning tools for stockpile certification applications and for modeling the spread of COVID-19.
Kelli received her Ph.D., M.S. and B.S. in nuclear engineering, as well as a B.S. in physics, from Texas A&M University.
For an undergraduate student in nuclear engineering and radiological sciences, a summer internship at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was something Annie Kritcher couldn’t pass up. “I was immediately drawn to ‘the big laser project’ and intrigued by the idea of a grand scientific challenge,” says Annie. “Since opportunities to be a part of something like this do not come around every career, I knew I had to join.”
Annie returned to the Laboratory as a graduate scholar and then a Lawrence postdoctoral fellow. Today, she works in the Design Physics Division, designing and simulating inertial confinement fusion (ICF) experiments fielded at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) and is a team lead within the ICF program. Annie was the lead designer for the recent ICF experiment that brought NIF to fusion ignition.
“The Laboratory has vast technical diversity and the opportunity to study various, and potentially very different, interesting problems in one’s career,” she explains. “The science that can be achieved in my field with the available resources — hardware, technology and expertise — is unsurpassed and keeps me excited and challenged. Also, the close relationships that I’ve formed at the Laboratory and working with people to solve difficult problems keeps me engaged.”
With all her work responsibilities, Annie has more at home, where she’s raising three young children. “I’m proof that you can be a powerful leader, leading campaigns in big science and have a work–life balance. Multidisciplinary teams benefit from having diversity and people who think differently all contributing uniquely to solving problems. Women in science are no exception.”
Annie has a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering and plasma physics and a M.S. in nuclear engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and a B.S. in nuclear engineering and radiological sciences from the University of Michigan.
Emily Link served as a postdoctoral researcher at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory before joining LLNL, where she is now an experimental laser physicist for NIF and Photon Science Directorate’s Advanced Photon Technologies Program.
Emily’s area of expertise is in generating short bursts of laser light, and her current research efforts are focused on designing lasers that are more robust and can generate more data by firing more often. Her research and development resulted in a patent for a new pulse compressor architecture designed to reduce the loss of spatial and temporal quality when running multiple experiments, which means a drastic reduction in the cost per joule for ultra-short laser pulses.
Along with her work at NIF, Emily participated in the 2019 Emerging Leaders Program, part of the Laboratory’s effort to develop a diverse pool of qualified candidates who can step into future leadership opportunities.
Emily holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in physics from The Ohio State University and a B.S. in creative studies (physics) from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Derek Mariscal didn’t go into physics to win awards. But he and team members continue to break boundaries and watch accolades come their way. Derek, an engineering physicist with expertise in both high energy fusion experiments and short-pulse, high-intensity laser plasma interactions, works in the High Energy Density (HED) Physics group.
He and a team used NIF’s Advanced Radiographic Capability short-pulse laser to produce proton beams with energies about 10 times higher than previous experience would have predicted. “We demonstrated the use of protons for radiographing extreme electromagnetic fields in an experiment for the first time at NIF,” Derek says.
Derek was a key contributor in NIF experiments that achieved, for the first time at LLNL, a “burning plasma” in which the heat from the fusion reactions exceeded other power sources in the plasma — work that won a 2021 Director’s Science and Technology award and a National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Defense Programs Award of Excellence. With technological advances enabling laser-driven experiments at several times per second (versus several times per day), Derek is working with a team of computer scientists and physicists under a DOE award to enable HED physics studies at unprecedented speed using machine-learning techniques.
Derek has a M.S. in engineering physics/applied physics from the University of California, San Diego, and a B.S. in physics from the California State University, Stanislaus.
Our Latest News
Our Current Projects
Our work advances inertial confinement fusion research and supports mission-critical work in nuclear deterrence, stockpile stewardship and energy security.
Achieving Fusion Ignition
For more than 60 years, our researchers and colleagues worked to achieve fusion ignition, one of science’s most challenging goals. An experiment on Dec. 5, 2022, passed this historic milestone, opening new vistas of HED science, enabling access to regimes even more relevant for future stockpile stewardship and helping to create the groundwork to a path for fusion energy.
Specialized Diagnostics for Extreme Experiments
Grasping the extreme physics happening during HED experiments requires some of the most sophisticated measuring instruments ever made. Our highly specialized diagnostics operate in timescales of nanoseconds and detect interactions below the submicron level, often under intense bombardment of both particle and electromagnetic radiation. Diagnostics include streak cameras, neutron detectors, x-ray imaging and spectroscopy and the Advanced Radiographic Capability, the world’s most energetic short-pulse laser, located at NIF.
Experimental Data Inform Weapon-Simulation Codes
NIF is the only facility that can perform controlled, experimental studies of thermonuclear burn — the phenomenon that gives rise to the immense energy of modern nuclear weapons — providing unprecedented experimental access to the physics of nuclear weapons. The experimental data complement testing at other Livermore and partner experimental facilities, help to inform and validate sophisticated, 3D weapons-simulation computer codes and offer a fuller understanding of important weapon physics.
Our Facilities, Centers and Institutes
HED science research is carried out at Livermore facilities and through partnerships with other world-class facilities with unique capabilities.
Electron Beam Ion Trap Facility
The Electron Beam Ion Trap (EBIT) facility is home to a suite of x-ray and UV diagnostics, including high-resolution crystal and quantum calorimeter spectrometers used to measure photon emission with energies from below 100 eV to above 100 keV.
High Energy Density Science Center
The High Energy Density Science (HEDS) Center facilitates opportunities for scientists and engineers to access world-class experimental facilities and engage in collaborative explorations of matter and energy under extreme conditions.
Jupiter Laser Facility
The Jupiter Laser Facility (JLF) delivers leading-edge science and supports the high energy density science research community with access to high-energy and high-power laser platforms.
National Ignition Facility
The National Ignition Facility (NIF) is the world’s largest and highest-energy laser system. Our unique energy and power enable cutting-edge research to help keep the U.S. stockpile safe and secure, explore new frontiers of science and lay the groundwork for a clean, sustainable source of energy.
World-class science takes teamwork. Explore the organizations that contribute to our research in high energy density science by clicking the images below.
Join Our Team
We offer opportunities in a variety of fields, not just science and technology. We are home to a diverse staff of professionals that includes administrators, researchers, creatives, supply chain staff, health services workers and more. Visit our careers page to learn more about the different career paths we offer and find the one that speaks to you. Make your mark on the world!