Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Bob Heeter

Experimental Physicist

Physics Division

May 28, 2021

What do you like about working at the Lab?

Working at the Lab is almost never boring. Every day comes with exciting new challenges to solve, fresh information to explore, and interesting new people to interact with–often on something you never dreamed you'd be thinking about! I'm in high-energy-density plasma physics (or, "What happens to stuff when it gets REALLY hot?"), which contributes to the development of fusion (clean future energy), understanding stars (basic science), and the stockpile stewardship mission (defense & national service)—that's a fun combination!

What do your day-to-day work activities include?

Email and meetings! I attend meetings about planning and executing large laser experiments, analyze data, and discuss the results to better understand the properties of hot, dense matter. My work involves lots of interdisciplinary teamwork and creative problem solving as well as mentoring and supporting younger staff working on related experiments. I also still manage to do real hands-on work on a NIF diagnostic for our experiment.

What is one project you’re really proud to have worked on?

There are a lot of great projects, but the high point so far has been working on the "Opacity-on-NIF" campaign, a series of experiments that our national team built from scratch to understand how X-rays get absorbed as they pass through a sample of hot, dense plasma that we create. Creating the sample is a combination of baking and photography: the NIF beams heat up a "laser oven" (called a hohlraum), the sample inside the oven gets hot and expands a bit, and then we use more NIF beams to make an x-ray flashbulb and shine the light through the sample. The pride comes after wrestling with many challenges, when the measurements finally start to work and make sense, and we begin seeing things that no one's ever looked at before.

What is your educational or career background?

I received a bachelor's in physics and a PhD in astrophysical sciences. After completing a postdoc fellowship, I became an LLNL staff physicist and currently serve as a senior scientist. I’ve been at the Lab for 21 years.

What inspired you to go into science?

I'm an "accidental physicist." I had no idea what to major in when I got to college, so I started with math and physics since they kept all my options open if I changed my mind. As I explored, I found that I liked math, physics, philosophy, and computer science, but I got along best with the physics classes and students, so it stuck!

What advice would you give to a new employee at the Lab?

The Lab is full of opportunities for those who keep building their skills and contributing wherever they can. And it pays to treat everyone well—you never know who will be on your next team.

What do you do in your free time?

Free time? Working parents don’t get much free time, but I enjoy helping my kids with school, activities, and sports. I enjoy playing tennis and COVID encouraged me to take more time for personal fitness, so I joined the LLESA tennis group. My other hobbies are investing, games, hiking, the occasional movie, and reading (particularly sci-fi, fantasy adventures, and history).

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