Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Patrick Allen

Physical Chemist

Materials Science Division

November 2, 2020

What do you like about working at the Lab?

In a broad sense, I like working at the Lab because of the breadth of research, programs, and people that we have the opportunity to engage with or get exposure to. Over the course of my career at the Lab, I have worked in at least four quite distinct jobs across three directorates and two large programs. I’m very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on such a wide array of projects while at the same time interacting with a wide variety of people across numerous disciplines. It continues to make things very interesting.

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

I work on a system life extension program in the weapons program. I manage a group of chemistry staff and projects that are focused on characterizing and understanding materials properties and degradation mechanisms in an array of extreme environments. I am very fortunate to have an amazing team of really enthusiastic and talented scientists that lead these complex chemistry studies. There is a great deal of interaction amongst engineers, chemists, and physicists as we proceed through each series of tests and try to figure out what the data is telling us.

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

The one that stands out is the so-called “plutonium aging” project. I was part of a very large, cross-disciplinary team that mirrored a similar team at Los Alamos and had high visibility back at NNSA headquarters and beyond. This was one of the cornerstone projects in the beginning of science-based stockpile stewardship. Besides studying and learning about many aspects of plutonium science, we delivered some very important results and conclusions that were used to help shape stockpile decisions for the future.

What is your educational or career background?

I have a PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Michigan, and my technical areas of focus are in x-ray absorption spectroscopy and actinide chemistry. I spent part of my graduate work at Los Alamos and performed countless experiments at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory. That work led to a joint postdoc appointment with Lawrence Berkeley Lab, an added concentration on x-ray studies applied to actinide systems, and ultimately to a career appointment at LLNL. I’ve worked at LLNL for 30 years.

What inspired you to go into science/your field of work?

I had always liked science and math growing up, and I was actually interested in nuclear energy at a young age. I started out college initially in engineering and surveyed a few other disciplines before converging on chemistry. The draw and migration out to the Department of Energy labs, the West coast, and nuclear disciplines sort of happened accidentally though, perhaps by fate.

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

Explore as much as you can, and keep your mind and options open. Stay flexible and don’t be afraid to change.

What do you do in your free time?

In my spare time, I do a lot of cycling around the Bay area. I mostly do road biking, and I like long rides into the mountains. I also enjoy traveling, seeing other countries. I follow some professional sports too, but I’m not too fanatical about that.

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