Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Minta Akin


Physics Division

June 16, 2020

What do you like about working at the Lab?

I love puzzles and dislike being bored. At the lab, I get all the puzzles (and the resources to solve them), and I haven’t been bored yet. I get to do all of this fun puzzle solving with great coworkers and contribute to national security at the same time. It’s a great combo.

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

I smash stuff, really hard, to see what it does.

In normal times, my days vary. On any given day, I may be traveling for an experiment or meeting; setting up, operating, or running experiments; designing experiments/studies/diagnostics; meeting with engineering to move those designs to reality; simulating experiments; analyzing data; writing reports/papers; interviewing candidates; or planning the next stages of work.

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

That’s tough, as I have two favorites. One project studied the shock response of granular materials on the local and long scales using x-ray imaging and diffraction methods. We were one of the first groups to image shocked materials during the shock using Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source. This let us measure the response of few-grain and many-grain samples to understand how force transmits, how the different grains break, and how phase transitions may differ in these samples compared to their bulk counterparts.

The other project is one I’m working on currently to measure temperature in shocks. I think of this as putting the ‘thermo’ back into thermodynamics—there’s almost no data, so we have to guess (or at best, estimate) important parts of our equations of state, even for materials that we otherwise know a lot about. This gap is holding our community back. This is the project that gets me up in the morning and keeps me up at night, because it’s really tough.

What inspired you to go into science?

My mom was an entomologist, so science was always on my radar. It was just the two of us, so I spent a lot of time in the lab and in the field with her. When I wasn’t mosquito bait, I was busy looking through microscopes. I explored various fields of science from there, and ended up doing shock physics kind of by accident.

When I graduated in mid-2008, I was six months pregnant and the economy was in free fall—getting a job right away didn’t happen. LLNL recruited my husband and me at the same time, so I ended up changing fields just trying to make sure we could work in the same city.

What is your educational or career background?

I got my BS in chemistry from Caltech (Pasadena, CA) in 2003, and my PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Texas (Austin, TX) in 2008. While a grad student, I had a summer fellowship at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which confirmed for me that I wanted to work at a national lab or NASA.

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

Network like mad. Find your org chart and pick a name, if you need to. If you’re an introvert, network extra. If you’re a postdoc or student, the lab lets you really explore and be creative with more resources than you had in school, so enjoy the time and make the most of those opportunities.

What are your hobbies?

Reading, weaving, spinning, art, baking, home repair, dog training, and volunteering.

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