Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Kay Kolos

Nuclear Physicist

Nuclear and Chemical Sciences Division

June 25, 2021

What do you like about working at the Lab?

The thing that I enjoy the most about being a scientist at the Lab is that our work is ever-changing. We utilize our knowledge to push science further and further, solve problems quicker, and everything we learn along the way is very enriching. With such a broad range of topics and projects that we can get involved in and help with, our work continues to be challenging, encouraging, and really fun. I am fortunate enough to collaborate with exceptional scientists, engineers, technicians, and administrators that together make the Lab a great place to work.

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

My day-to-day activities involve data analysis, detector simulations, publication writing, and postdoc and student mentoring. A few times a year, I travel to various national facilities to perform experiments or present our results at various workshops and conferences.

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

I work on a team that developed a method to measure very precisely the probability of gamma-radiation emission from beta decays of fission products. This information is important to guide nuclear fission models, as well as for nuclear applications and stockpile stewardship. I am very proud of my work on this project as it has an impact on basic science and the Lab’s mission, but also, because it taught me how much work and patience precision measurements require. I feel very happy to be able to gain so much experience working with world-class precision-measurements decay experts. I am looking forward to continuing these measurements and applying my expertise to solve other problems.

What is your educational or career background?

I have a BS in physics from the University of Warsaw (Poland), an MS in physics from the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland), and a PhD in nuclear physics from the University of Paris South (France). Before I joined the Lab in 2015, I worked as a postdoc at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville where I performed nuclear structure studies of radioactive isotopes. At LLNL, I am a member of the Nuclear and Particle Physics Group and I study radioactive decays and nuclear reactions.

What inspired you to go into science?

I always really enjoyed studying physics and math in school, which was my first motivator to major in physics without, at that time, really knowing what I would do when I graduated. I remember the breakthrough moment in making that decision happened during a trip organized by my university colleagues to visit various national laboratories in Germany, where for the first time, I was exposed to purely scientific environments and met scientists who worked on creating and studying new radioactive elements for living. I found it extremely fascinating and there was no doubt that this was going to be my career path. Today, I use state-of-the-art detectors at the radioactive beam facilities to produce, measure, and interpret data on unstable isotopes that helps us understand reactions that happen in star explosions and how our universe was created. Sounds like a down-to-earth job to me!

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

As important as it is to spend your time executing the tasks you were hired to accomplish, do not forget to sometimes step out of our comfort zone and get to know your colleagues from the group and across various divisions. You will be amazed to hear about the broad and exciting science they all do. I can assure you that they will be more than happy to share their knowledge, experience, and advice with you.

What do you do in your free time?

I really enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, biking, running, and playing tennis. Traveling is a big passion as well. I like visiting new places and learning about other cultures. I’m also a member of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory Women’s Association.

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