Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Harris Mason

Director, Magnetic Resonance Facility

Atmospheric, Earth, and Energy Division

August 18, 2020

What do you like about your job?

The best part of my job is the opportunity to interact with scientists with diverse backgrounds and skill sets. We have scientists that come into the Magnetic Resonance Facility that are working on projects ranging from stockpile stewardship, to energy materials, and even carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and utilization. It is really exciting to see the cross section of work going on and to interact with people who are really passionate about the work they are doing.

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

I manage the Magnetic Resonance Facility at the Lab. Much of my time is devoted to more administrative work, which includes advising staff, drafting reports, editing papers, and writing grants for new projects. I do sometimes get to do experiments in the facility—as long as the other members of the lab let me, and I don’t break anything while I am there.

My primary expertise is in solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, which is a technique that allows investigation of the chemistry of materials at the scale of the atomic bond. We use this in the lab to investigate materials like polymers, ceramics, and even rocks. Our primary application is the aging and degradation of polymeric materials used in the stockpile.

What is your educational or career background?

I have an undergraduate degree in geology from Marietta College, Ohio, and a PhD in geosciences from Stony Brook University, New York. I started at the Lab as a postdoctoral researcher, and I have worked here for close to 11 years now.

What inspired you to go into your field of work?

I was always the kid who picked up odd shaped rocks and put them in his pockets during walks, but it was a chance internship with my PhD advisor that really inspired me to go into the field of solid-state NMR. In the summer of my junior year of college, I took an internship at Stony Brook University. When I got there, I found out the initial person I had signed up to work with was on sabbatical. My future PhD advisor took me on with a last-minute idea he had been interested in pursuing. He was an expert in the field of solid-state NMR and mineralogy. I had so much fun working with him and this new-to-me method that I said, “yup, that is what I want to do.” I applied to his group my senior year and started at Stony Brook the following fall.

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

There are so many fun projects I have worked on at the Lab, so it really is hard to pick just one! However, over the years I have had the opportunity to be involved in a variety of projects relating to CO2 capture and utilization. Most seem to revolve around cement and concrete in some way. Boring stuff that you walk on every day, but you may not think about the diverse, complex, and fascinating chemistry of this material. Recently, I have been working on a project with a postdoc in our lab and an external company that is focused on making cement using waste products and CO2. The process of making cement is a major contributor to global CO2 emissions (estimates range as high as 5% of total emissions!) and to work on a project where we are using a process that could significantly offset these emissions is exciting.

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

Take time to learn from those around you. There are so many amazingly smart people at the Lab, and you should take any advantage you can to meet these folks and learn about what they are doing. Go to seminars. Make connections. Don’t be afraid to talk to the upper management. They likely haven’t been in the trenches doing science lately. They miss it and love to talk about it with you. You will also be surprised where your career at the Lab can take you. There is no one path to follow, and there are so many opportunities to branch out and explore new directions. Have fun!

What do you do in your free time?

I am a once and hopefully future trail runner. I had an injury that has set me back a bit, but I am starting to lace up my running shoes so I can get back out to do more trail adventures. Most weekends you can find me desperately trying to keep up with my wife and exploring many of the amazing parks in the Bay Area. I am also a cat dad to some wonderful and crazy little furballs. I am a novice gardener who is slowly learning that if you water your vegetables enough, they will actually produce food for you...

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