Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

S. Mark Ammons


Physics Division

August 26, 2021

What do you like about working at the Lab?

LLNL presents enormous opportunities for multi-disciplinary projects that simply couldn't happen in a university setting, at least not easily. While at LLNL, through LDRD, I've had the chance to work closely with the world's best optical, electrical, and computer engineers in multiple directorates.

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

I'm very excited to have led the development of the LLAMAS adaptive optics system, a state-of-the-art prototype that pushes the limits of adaptive optics compensation in challenging turbulent environments. LLAMAS demonstrates advanced technologies like low-latency computing and control algorithms that will be needed for future extremely large telescopes in astronomy and in other domains.

What is your educational or career background?

I obtained my PhD in astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, working within the Center for Adaptive Optics. LLNL was a major player in the Center. Following that, I took a Hubble Fellowship at the University of Arizona to study gravitational lensing in galaxy clusters. And I've been at the Lab for ten years.

What inspired you to go into science?

Many of us have looked through small telescopes and then were delighted to see the rings of Saturn or the moons of Jupiter up close. But when I first did so, my excitement quickly became disappointment as atmospheric turbulence blurred the image and prevented me from seeing more details. At an REU at the National Solar Observatory, I discovered these adaptive optics systems that can "fix" the turbulence and bring telescope images into sharp focus. I've been hooked ever since.

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

Use your postdoctoral years to build relationships beyond your local research group. Some of these can eventually result in new opportunities and open doors. Most of the people reviewing your work and proposals will not be technical experts in your field, so it helps to have a wide network throughout the Lab.

What do you do in your free time?

An unhealthy amount of cycling.

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