Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Suzanne Ali


Physics Division

October 27, 2020

What do you like about working at the Lab?

I like that there are constant challenges to work on (and problems to troubleshoot), great people to bother with questions, and an environment that largely encourages learning and innovation.

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

I primarily work on understanding material properties under dynamic compression, so on a great day, I’m hitting things with giant lasers in a lab. On a normal (but still pretty good) day, I do lots of planning and lots of technical data analysis of the measurements taken during the aforementioned giant laser experiments. I usually attend a few meetings, and then try to sneak in some paper reading/writing if I can manage it.

What is your educational and career background?

I got my AB (artium baccalaureus, because everything is fancier in Latin) in chemistry at Bryn Mawr College in 2009, and then my PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, in physical chemistry in 2015, working for Prof. Raymond Jeanloz. I actually worked at the Lab as a grad student, starting in about 2010, in the Shock Physics Group (since renamed the Dynamic Material Properties Group and very recently split into two groups), eventually getting hired as a postdoc and then staff. Over the course of my grad work, I gradually shifted more towards high pressure physics, and that is where I’ve ended up today.

What inspired you to go into your field of work?

I enjoy learning and problem solving, and I had a pretty good idea that I wanted to go into research as I was starting college. As to how I specifically ended up in high pressure physics, I can actually trace that to an article in Physics World written in 2009: “Planets under pressure,” which I read while trying to decide between research groups. I thought the work was really cool, and upon realizing that the author was a professor at UC Berkeley, I asked to join his group.

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

Ask questions. My experience has been that, despite all of my anxiety around asking, people at the Lab are generally very happy to answer questions and talk about their work. This is also a great way to find new projects and meet new people for collaborations.

What do you do in your free time?

Roughly in order of how much of my time is involved: managing a small cat army, reading, playing video games, messing with (read: repairing) my car, and cheesemaking.