It’s been more than 10 years since John Ruiz, a mechanical designer in NIF’s Facilities and Infrastructure Systems group, left the Army. But last summer, he found himself transported back to one of the most harrowing days of his Army career at the Medal of Honor ceremony for his former squad leader, Staff Sergeant David G. Bellavia.
Ruiz was a senior at Tracy High School during 9/11. That event, and his family’s long history of military service, drove him to enlist in 2002 just after graduation. “I went into the infantry, much to the dismay of my family. I wanted to be on the front lines,” he says.
Bellavia was his team leader on a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo and was promoted to staff sergeant just before the unit deployed to Iraq in 2004.
“He’s hyper-focused, very intelligent, and a bit of a perfectionist,” says Ruiz. “He was very hard on us. He wanted us to be the very best that we could be. Ultimately, that paid off because we were put into very compromising situations. It’s during those times that you are thankful for the countless hours of drilling and training.”
During the Second Battle of Fallujah, also known as Operation Phantom Fury, Bellavia led his squad in clearing a block of buildings to search for hidden insurgents. Inside the tenth house, they found them.
“We had been in-country for over nine months and been involved in every major battle up to that point,” recalls Ruiz. “We were tired. While in the city we were on 75 percent security, meaning 75 percent of the unit was on duty at any given time, so we were lucky to get two to three hours of sleep a night. This was the end of a very long couple of days. It was the last house we were going to check that day.”
As the squad entered the house, they immediately came under machine-gun fire from insurgents hiding under a stairwell. Other insurgents began firing through a window, wounding several members of Bellavia’s squad and effectively trapping them. Recognizing the urgency, Bellavia charged, firing on the enemy until they were forced to take cover, allowing the soldiers to move out of the house.
While his squad reorganized, Bellavia single-handedly cleared the house. “We were fortunate to get out without any casualties,” says Ruiz. “It was chaotic, but we were prepared. Between the rigorous training, combat experience, and David Bellavia’s leadership, we were ready.”
Vets to Tech Eases Transition to Civilian Life
Ruiz completed his first tour in Iraq a few months after the Battle of Fallujah. He reenlisted and planned on making the Army his career, but a physical exam revealed he had sustained severe hearing loss.
“It was enough that I couldn’t return to the front line,” he says. “I was given the option to reclassify into another military occupational specialty or leave the Army. I loved the infantry, so I decided to leave the military.”
He has no regrets about leaving. “I scratched that itch. I enjoyed what I did, I was good at it. I didn’t see any reason to leave, but when the options were presented, I knew it was time for something new.”
After his discharge, Ruiz worked for several engineering firms and ended up at the BNSF Railway Company in the mechanical division. He enjoyed the work but was ready to take his career to the next level. He began taking welding classes at Las Positas College, where he learned about the Engineering Technology Program for Veterans, known as Vets to Tech.
Established in 2014, Vets to Tech is a collaboration between LLNL, Las Positas College, the Alameda County Workforce Investment Board, and the nonprofit Growth Sector to create a workforce pipeline for veteran students through skills training, paid internships, and a gateway to future employment (see “Lab honored for Vets to Tech program”).
During the 24-month program, the cohorts take classes in higher math, engineering, and manufacturing. They’re required to maintain a 3.0 programmatic GPA and go through an interview process to earn a summer Lab internship. Of the 36 graduates of the program, 33 now work at LLNL.
Taking Advantage of New Opportunities
“I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to work at the Lab,” Ruiz says. “I thought you had to be a postdoc to work there. As soon as I took a tour and saw the types of programs and the research being performed, I was immediately interested and I wanted to be a part of it.”
He interned in NIF’s Optics Processing Systems group, graduating in 2017. The following year his dream came true when he returned to NIF as a mechanical designer.
“I make 3D models of mechanical components, assemblies, or upgrades to the NIF,” he says. “I love it. I love seeing something go from an idea to an actual physical part.”
Ruiz credits Vets to Tech with helping him refine the skills he gained in the Army and from his post-military jobs. “They taught me how to apply the leadership skills and grow my knowledge in math, technology, and writing.”
His advice to other veterans is to not limit themselves.
“I think veterans tend to gravitate towards jobs that are similar to their military experience, like law enforcement and first responder,” he says. “The Las Positas veterans program showed me other avenues. Those are great careers, but there are so many other opportunities. I know I was intimidated by taking classes in math, physics, and engineering.”
In June, Ruiz was one of the guests invited to Washington, D.C., to watch Bellavia’s Medal of Honor ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
“I am very thankful that the Lab accommodated me attending this once-in-a-lifetime event,” he says. “It was amazing. It was my first trip to D.C. I was blown away by the White House and the Pentagon.”
The event was both a celebration and a reunion: Ruiz had not seen most of his squad in about 15 years. They spent most of a week in D.C. and also visited Arlington National Cemetery.
“Having a reunion under those circumstances—it was incredible,” he says. “Words can’t really describe how special it was.”
Learn more about the Las Positas College Veterans First program.
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The Laser Institute and SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, recently presented awards to a NIF&PS research team and an individual.
Laser Institute William M. Steen Award
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has won The Laser Institute (LIA)’s inaugural William M. Steen Award for the Academic & Public Sector. The award recognizes significant innovation in the use of lasers for advanced materials processing.
LLNL was cited for the discovery of an efficient mechanism for laser ablation (material removal) that could help pave the way to the use of lower-energy, less costly lasers in many industrial laser processing applications. The work was reported in a Journal of Applied Physics paper, “Physics of picosecond pulse laser ablation,” published online in February 2019, and a July 2019 Optics Express paper, “Enhancement of laser material drilling using high-impulse multi-laser melt ejection.”
“We are very honored to be recognized for this work by the Laser Institute,” said Jeff Bude, NIF & Photon Science Deputy Principal Associate Director for Science & Technology and an author on both papers. “We believe this finding could lead to new or more efficient laser machining protocols using picosecond lasers, especially when coupled with other lasers.”
Nan Shen, one of the authors on the papers, received the award on behalf of LLNL at the 38th International Congress on Applications of Lasers & Electro-Optics (ICALEO) in Orlando, Florida, on October 9. Other authors on the papers were Wes Keller, Sasha Rubenchik, Sonny Ly, Raluca Negres, Rajesh Raman, Jae-Hyuck Yoo, Gabe Guss, James Stolken, and Ibo Matthews.
Professor William Steen was, until his retirement in 2000, the Chair of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Liverpool. He started one of the world’s first University-based research schools in laser material processing. He is the author of Laser Material Processing, now in its fourth edition.
Professor Steen presented the award at the ICALEO conference. The William M. Steen Award recognizes 10 sectors: Academic & Public, Aerospace, Automotive, Defense, Medical Devices, Microelectronics, Life Sciences, Research & Development, Academic & Public Sector, and Specialized Manufacturing & Services.
Founded in 1968, LIA is a professional society for lasers, laser applications, and laser safety worldwide.
SPIE Oral Presentation Award
LLNL’s Eyal Feigenbaum received the Alexander Glass Best Oral Presentation Award from SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics. He was recognized for his talk, “Revisiting the laser induced filamentation damage conditions in fused silica for energetic laser systems,” at the Laser Damage 2018 conference.
The work he presented studies the conditions leading to the formation of filamentation damage in a bulk of optics — an angel hair-like shaped damage. This problem limits the potential of high-power lasers like NIF from reaching higher powers as well as their optics’ lifetime. Filamentation formation is well-studied in small beams, but the problem is fundamentally different with NIF and other high-power lasers.
“To better understand the contributing parameters and their role, we derived an analytic model and examined it with numerical simulation of the problem,” explained Feigenbaum. “The model results highlight the role of the major contributing parameters and results in a guidance for mitigations of filamentation damage. We are now focusing on further verifying the model findings and the proposed mitigations.”
At the Laser Damage 2019 conference, held in September in Broomfield, Colorado, Feigenbaum received a personalized desktop trophy and an honorarium as a token of SPIE’s appreciation for his contributions to the conference.
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Six scientists whose work has includes research involving NIF & Photon Science have been named 2019 American Physical Society (APS) fellows.
Since 1921, the APS has annually elected members to the status of fellows to recognize those “who have made exceptional contributions to the physics enterprise in physics research, important applications of physics, leadership in or service to physics, or significant contributions to physics education.”
This year’s group of 168 APS Fellows includes:
Félicie Albert, staff scientist and deputy director of LLNL’s Center for High Energy Density Science. She was cited “for many original contributions to the development of directional x-ray beams for probing high energy density matter.” In July, Albert received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and was named a senior member of The Optical Society.
Kimberly Budil, principal associate director for Weapons & Complex Integration (WCI), “for extraordinary leadership in developing national security partnerships between laboratories, academia, and governments, and for promoting diversity in science.” Budil, who joined LLNL as a graduate student in Laser Programs in 1987, has held roles of increasing management responsibility across LLNL programs including NIF, WCI, Global Security, and Physical and Life Sciences.
Harry Robey, LLNL physicist, who was cited for “significant advances
in the understanding of complex hydrodynamics in inertial confinement fusion
and high energy density plasmas, and for leadership in the design and execution of experiments on the National Ignition Facility.”
Ye Zhou, LLNL physicist, “for seminal contributions to understanding the evolution of turbulent interfaces from the weakly nonlinear to fully turbulent regimes relevant to the micro-scales of laser experiments, and the inertial confinement fusion to the mega-scales of supernova explosions, space physics, and astrophysics.”
Carolyn Kuranz, director of laboratory astrophysics, University of Michigan Center for Laser Experimental Astrophysics Research. Kuranz, associate professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences, was cited for spearheading academic use of NIF for “seminal experiments in plasma laboratory astrophysics, specifically the effects of locally generated intense radiation on an interface and on astrophysically relevant interfacial instabilities.”
Hans Herrmann, Engineered Materials group leader, Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Material Science and Technology division. Herrmann was cited for “pioneering the use of Cherenkov radiation techniques for high energy gamma spectroscopy applications at the National Ignition and Omega Laser Facility.”
Other LLNL scientists named as APS Fellows were:
Jutta Escher, research scientist, Physical & Life Sciences nuclear and chemical sciences division, “for developing the theoretical framework required to validate the surrogate reaction method for neutron-induced reactions, and for leading the applications of these methods to address important questions in nuclear astrophysics and stewardship science.”
Sofia Quaglioni, P&LS deputy group leader, nuclear data and theory, “for contributions to unifying theories for the structure and dynamics of light nuclei by elucidating the role of the continuum in weakly bound nuclei, and the inclusion of three-body final states and three-nucleon interactions within reaction dynamics.”
The fellowships are awarded after an extensive review and are considered a distinct honor because the evaluation process, conducted by fellowship committees of individual divisions, topical groups, and forums, relies on nomination and recommendation by one’s professional peers. No more than one half of one percent of the society’s membership is elected to the status of fellow each year.
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As a kid, Raspberry Simpson found inspiration in the mysteries of the universe while spending many hours after school inside New York’s Hayden Planetarium.
“I don’t really think I knew then I could be a scientist as a career, but I knew I was really interested in it,” Simpson said. “And I learned through lots of great teachers that this could be a job eventually.”
This year, the MIT graduate student spent time at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as a NIF & Photon Science Summer Scholar, doing her part to help unravel some of those same mysteries while laying the groundwork for an important future NIF plasma diagnostic tool.
Being a scientist “has been the best job that I could have,” she said.
Laboratory Residency Graduate Fellowship
Simpson, a PhD candidate in nuclear engineering at MIT, was also at LLNL as one of the four-member inaugural class of the Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Laboratory Residency Graduate Fellowship. The fellowship is designed to train scientists who are vital to meeting U.S. workforce needs in advanced science and engineering.
At LLNL, she was tasked with the early design of a Thomson Parabola Charged Particle Spectrometer (TP-CPS), a diagnostic planned for the National Ignition Facility and NIF’s Advanced Radiographic Capability (ARC) laser.
The instrument could be used for ion acceleration measurements, stopping power experiments, and laboratory astrophysics. She is also involved with an experiment in the Jupiter Laser Facility’s Titan laser investigating the scaling of proton acceleration in the multi-picosecond regime, said NIF physicist Tammy Ma, Simpson’s LLNL mentor.
Thomson Parabolas are frequently used on on other short-pulse facilities, such as the OMEGA-EP Laser System at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics. The instrument uses parallel magnetic and electric fields, which allows the simultaneous measurement of the spectra of different ion species depending on its charge and mass.
“She is adapting it for the particles we generate here at NIF and adding some modifications so that it will be more versatile than what we had before,” Ma said. “It will be incredibly useful for the short pulse experiments that we do, as well as Discovery Science experiments and maybe even ICF (inertial confinement fusion) experiments.”
“She’s basically doing the full design and physics requirements,” Ma added. “It is plunging her into NIF immediately. She gets to find out about the future experiments that we’re planning.”
Simpson has been talking to NIF&PS researchers to see how they think the device could be designed so it will be useful for their experiments, while also conducting tests on an older version of a similar diagnostic on the Titan laser.
Ma said Simpson has impressed her as “an innovator and a thinker.”
“She’s not afraid to tackle big projects or to reach out to people at the Lab to get the information that she needs,” Ma said.
Simpson said she enjoyed talking about the diagnostic’s ability to measure different particles at the same time.
“That will be powerful,” she said. “I just wanted to get the idea out there so people could start thinking about how they would craft an experiment around it or how they could use it in their current campaigns.”
Along the way, she’s been able to experience different high energy density (HED) experiments involving noted LLNL scientists like Ma, Derek Mariscal, Graeme Scott, Félicie Albert, Nuno Lemos, Andrew MacKinnon, Andrew MacPhee, and Dean Rusby.
“I’ve gotten to see a tasting platter of HED science,” Simpson said. “It’s cool to meet people who are getting all these awards and they’ll still take the time to explain to me what are basic things for them.”
The 26-year-old New York City native was named for the raspberry leaf her mother found comforting during her pregnancy. Her mother also introduced her to places like the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History because she saw Simpson’s interest in science.
“She just put opportunities in front of me that she thought I would like. I did, and the ball kept rolling,” Simpson said. “My mother has always been my biggest champion. I get my work ethic from her.”
The Road to MIT
She earned an associate degree in physics at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, a liberal arts college for students who are ready to enter higher education after the 10th or 11th grades. While still at Bard, she participated in the MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP), getting the chance to work with MIT physics professors Lindley Winslow and Janet Conrad in the Laboratory for Nuclear Science. (See: From Summer Research Program to PhD Dissertation, MIT News)
The MSRP helps show undergraduate students who come from backgrounds that have traditionally been marginalized in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) that “there is a space for you at MIT or a place like MIT and that you already have the tools to excel there,” she said.
Simpson went on to Columbia University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in applied physics. While at Columbia, she received the chance to work on astrophysics experiments with Frank Merrill, an experimental physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Merrill became a mentor who “gave me confidence that I could be a scientist for real,” she said.
And at LLNL, she’s learned more about plasma physics and short pulse high energy density science from Ma, who “always has time to carve out for me whether I need mentorship or just to talk.”
“There’s a bunch of avenues that are super interesting within plasma physics,” Simpson said. “It feels like a new field almost all the time. And it feels like there’s more opportunities for young scientists to dig up something interesting.”
Diversity in Science
She’s also seen the importance of the type of team science prevalent at LLNL, where many bright minds come together to solve the toughest scientific mysteries in the universe.
“Fusion is hard,” she said. “With problems like that, there’s not a lot of space for ego. That’s why it’s also important to have diversity in science. These problems are too hard to have a very small sliver of the population working on them.”
Simpson is working on her PhD at the MIT Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering with academic advisor Johan Frenje. As part of her DOE NNSA Laboratory Residency Graduate Fellowship, Simpson will return to LLNL for another residency period in the coming months. Ultimately, she would like to work at a national lab.
“I just want to be impactful, to be helpful in the pursuit of science and to do something new,” she said.
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Among the eleven scientists and engineers named to LLNL's fifth annual Early and Mid-Career Recognition (EMCR) Program were two researchers making key contributions to NIF & Photon Science: Salmaan Baxamusa, a chemical engineer and deputy group leader in the NIF Optics & Target Materials Division, and Brian Spears, a design physicist and group leader in the Design Physics Division.
“Our early and mid-career staff are our future leaders,” said Director Bill Goldstein. “Through these awards we recognize their exceptional accomplishments and try to provide an opportunity to further enhance their careers at the Lab.”
Salmaan Baxamusa’s work has been critical in the discovery of photo-oxidation in Glow Discharge Plasma polymers (GDP), an important ablator material for inertial confinement fusion (ICF) targets. He methodically unraveled the associated energetics and kinetics of this oxidation process, and then led the effort to produce the first of its kind target fabricated with patterned ripples of oxygen concentration. His finding of photo-oxidative phenomena even at wavelengths as high as 600 nanometers is of great importance to this field.
“I’m very humbled to have won this award,” Baxamusa said. “The truth is that all accomplishments at LLNL are team efforts, even those that are recognized with individual awards. I am grateful to have been surrounded by outstanding scientists, engineers, technicians, managers, and administrative staff during my career. I am most thankful for the many colleagues who have served as mentors and pushed me to continually learn new things.”
Throughout his career as an ICF target designer, Brian Spears pioneered ways to use large ensembles of simulations to better understand experiments and experimental design. Early in his career, he developed what were (at the time) very large databases of ICF simulations that could be used to probe ICF target performance. He used these tools to develop multiple key ideas for ignition experiments at NIF. Outgrowths from this included the design of an experimental radiographic measurement of the velocity of ICF implosions, which he helped develop on the OMEGA Laser at the University of Rochester and refine on NIF.
“I’m very grateful to have won an EMCR,” Spears said. “It’s a pleasure to work with wonderful people who have amazing skills. To be counted as worthy of special recognition within such a talented group is an honor. My wife, Rebecca Dylla-Spears, won an EMCR last year, so it’s great to be in her professional company.”
Spears plans to use the award money for one of two projects related to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) here at the Lab. He may use it to supplement his efforts to advance AI/ML tools for science-based stockpile stewardship research. He also said that for several years he has wanted to write a book on the development and application of AI/ML tools for applied science problems of all flavors.
The EMCR Program recognizes scientific and technical accomplishments, leadership and future promise demonstrated by LLNL scientists and engineers early in their careers — from four to 16 years since they received their most recent degree. Winners receive a cash award and institutional funding (approximately equivalent to 20 percent support for one year) to pursue research activities in their area of interest. The other winners were:
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