Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory



Physics

Driving research at the forefront of physics to address national security challenges

LLNL’s theoretical and experimental physics research areas are tightly coordinated to provide predictive, validated, and comprehensive solutions for national security challenges.

LLNL’s Physics Division (Physics) use the state-of-the-art tools and unique resources at LLNL to conduct leading-edge research and development activities with broad applications in foundational science, stewardship science, fusion energy, advanced optical systems, and data science. We drive research at the forefront of physics by:

  • Determining fundamental properties of matter under extreme conditions through experiments as well as modeling and simulation using exascale computing resources.
  • Harnessing the power of quantum physics to develop quantum-coherent devices, quantum materials, quantum systems, and quantum–classical interfaces.
  • Developing new capabilities in space science and security, including space-based observations of Earth and small-satellite technology.

Within Physics, our collaborative research and development teams focus on condensed-matter physics, plasma science, high-pressure physics, and laser physics. Our scientists support the National Ignition Facility, the Jupiter Laser Facility, and the High Energy Density Science Center, as well as programs in energy and national security.

Explore this page to learn more about the people, research, and resources that support our mission.

People

William Evans

William Evans

Division Leader

evans31@llnl.gov

read William’s bio

Al Osterheld

Al Osterheld

Deputy Division Leader

osterheld1@llnl.gov

read Al’s bio

Caitlin Menniti

Caitlin Menniti

Division Administrator

menniti2@llnl.gov

Meet our team

Research Areas

Applied Physics

Associate Division Leader: Stefan Hau-Riege

Our scientists and engineers push the boundaries of photon sciences and space technology to meet needs in nuclear security, space security, and basic and applied science. Our instrumentation and analysis techniques help establish new approaches for space situational awareness and space-based Earth observations.

Our work on visual to x-ray instrumentation as well as laboratory astrophysics plays an important role in telescope and satellite missions and astrophysical investigations. In addition, we pioneer and refine x-ray optics to understand photon–matter interactions and support high-energy-density physics efforts at National Nuclear Security Administration facilities, while exploring novel uses of multilayer optics for gamma-ray spectroscopy and thermal-neutron imaging.

Our researchers have participated in notable projects, including:

Our researchers comprise groups that perform basic and applied research to support science and security missions both at the Laboratory and for external sponsors. Learn more about these research groups by expanding the sections below.

Group leader: Michael Schneider

The Astronomy & Astrophysics Analytics group conducts research in cosmology, exoplanets, and the solar system. We use analysis techniques that include applying image processing and inference algorithms, such as Bayesian statistical methods and machine learning, to ground- and space-based optical telescope images and simulations. We seek to understand the nature of dark energy and dark matter through mechanisms such as weak gravitational lensing of galaxies or investigating Massive Astrophysical Compact Halo Objects (MACHOs) in the Milky Way. In addition to cosmology research, our group uses detection and orbit determination techniques to investigate Earth Trojan asteroids and explores adaptive optics capabilities and their applications for exoplanet discovery.

Our group plays a central role in the Rubin Observatory Legacy Survey of Space Time (LSST) data processing pipeline, and our members include working group leaders in the LSST Dark Energy Science Collaboration (DESC). We are also active in several other astronomy survey collaborations including the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), the Hyper Suprime-Cam (HSC) survey, and the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) survey.

Beyond science research within PLS, our group supports a number of programs within the Global Security and National Ignition Facility directorates through efforts such as cataloging and interpreting Earth-orbiting satellites and debris, in pursuance of increasing our nation’s space situational awareness.

Group leader: Greg Brown

Our scientists study a wide range of topics, including atomic physics, x-ray astrophysics, nuclear physics, and solar and planetary physics. We design a wide range of diagnostic instrumentation and operate the original electron beam ion trap. Several international facilities, such as the National Spherical Torus Experiment Upgrade (NSTX-U), Alcator C-Mod, DIII-D, and the Orion laser, use our instruments to study and diagnose fusion- and laser-produced plasmas. Our group members take on leadership and research roles in experiments at these facilities as well as LLNL’s National Ignition Facility and Sandia National Laboratory’s Z machine.

Our vibrant laboratory astrophysics program supports a variety of astrophysics and solar physics missions:

  • Chandra
  • XMM-Newton
  • Suzaku
  • Hitomi
  • The X-ray Astrophysics Recovery Mission (XARM)
  • ATHENA
  • Hinode
  • The Solar Dynamics Observatory

Group leader: Marie-Anne Descalle

Our group develops advanced x-ray optics solutions and explores photon–matter interaction processes for basic science investigations and programmatic missions. We push the limits of x-ray optics by utilizing our unique cross-disciplinary expertise in optics design, optimization, and fabrication to:

  • Build wave-front-preserving static and actuated beamline optics to transport and focus intense beams fabricated utilizing leading-edge thin-film coatings and multilayers.
  • Develop, field, and interpret novel diagnostics based on reflective x-ray optics for inertial confinement fusion and stockpile stewardship.
  • Explore novel uses of multilayer optics for gamma-ray spectroscopy or thermal-neutron imaging for nuclear security applications.
  • Develop next-generation x-ray telescopes for astrophysics and solar astronomy applications.
  • Perform high-intensity x-ray–plasma interaction studies for code validation for LLNL’s Weapons and Complex Integration directorate.

Group leader: Wim De Vries

Our activities span astrophysical science research to focused national security programs in space situational awareness, space protection, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. We support programmatic efforts in LLNL’s Global Security, Weapons and Complex Integration, and NIF and Photon Science organizations, and we execute science-based research and development within PLS.

Our projects include:

  • The development of x-ray adaptive optics systems
  • The Gemini Planet Imager instrument for the Gemini South Telescope
  • Optical payloads for nano-satellites

Additionally, we have explored the use of survey telescopes for dark matter research, developed algorithms and software tools for simulation of orbital space events, and implemented sensor calibration and exploitation strategies for hyperspectral airborne sensors.

Condensed Matter

Associate Division Leader: Phil Sterne

We conduct forefront research in condensed matter physics, science, and technology in support of LLNL missions. Our portfolio addresses national security, high-energy-density science, equations-of-state and constitutive properties, basic science, and advanced technology.

Among our key capabilities are modern experimental platforms, high-performance computing, and advanced theoretical methods. We study high-pressure states and dynamics of matter at the Advanced Photon Source. We implement new algorithms and approaches on supercomputers to model and simulate the behavior of matter under extreme conditions. Using tightly coordinated theory, experiments, and simulations, we explore comprehensive predictive understandings of the physics of matter under a broad range of conditions.

From materials theory to phase-transition kinetics, our scientists pursue forward-looking research studies to anticipate future challenges. Learn more about our research groups by expanding the sections below.

Group leader: John Klepeis

We research theoretical and computational condensed-matter physics in support of major Department of Energy and LLNL programs. Our research emphasizes quantum mechanical modeling and simulation of materials properties over wide ranges of temperature and pressure, focusing on understanding and elaborating the structural and thermodynamic properties of metals.

To learn more about our research, methods, and staff, visit the EOS and Materials Theory Group page.

Group leader: Phil Sterne (Acting)

We develop and implement new tools for EOS and related applications. Our work spans from quantum electronic structure code development to the libleos application program interface and associated tools. Our goal is to emphasize the importance of longer-term capability development for EOS-related activities.

Group leader: Jason Jeffries

Our group conducts static and dynamic experimental research addressing scientific challenges in condensed matter under extreme compression and thermal conditions. We conduct high fidelity studies of the physical, thermodynamic, and constitutive properties of matter and the associated dynamics and kinetics of phase transitions. Our experimental studies vitally affect and are closely aligned to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s stockpile stewardship mission.

To learn more about our research, methods, and staff, visit the High Pressure Physics Group website.

Group leader: Jonathan DuBois

Our group is focused on development of hardware, algorithms, and control for near-term applications in quantum information, sensing, and computing. Overarching goals are to draw from and build a community around intersections in applied mathematics, computer science, quantum information, and device physics to make optimal use of near-term quantum hardware.

To learn more about our research and facilities, visit the Quantum Coherent Device Physics Group page.

Fusion Sciences

Associate Division Leader: Harry Mclean

Covering a broad range of research activities, including magnetic fusion energy, discovery plasma science, high-energy-density laboratory plasmas, and fusion technology and materials, we are LLNL’s point of contact for Department of Energy (DOE) and national fusion programs, and we collaborate with all the major DOE magnetic fusion facilities.

Our scientists hold leadership roles in multi-institutional fusion research centers as well as in magnet design for the ITER tokamak. Other international efforts include experiments and modeling in support of fusion energy programs in Europe, China, and South Korea. We provide expertise and support for national security applications of electromagnetic modeling and pulsed-power driven fusion.

Learn more about our research groups by expanding the sections below.

Group leader: Steve Allen

We compare experimental results with analytical theory and computational models of plasma behavior to develop novel diagnostic measurements and execute state-of-the-art MFE experiments focused on both the core and boundary of high-performance MFE plasmas. Our advanced diagnostics are relevant to one of the most ambitious energy projects in the world, ITER. We focus specifically on experiments conducted at the DIII-D National Fusion Facility at General Atomics.

Group leader: Alex Friedman

Our group undertakes basic and applied plasma science as well as plasma theory and computations in support of magnetic and inertial fusion experiments. Our researchers take advantage of advanced algorithm development and high-performance computing to simulate various kinetic and fluid plasma models.

Members of our group developed the BOUT++ framework for writing fluid plasma simulations in curvilinear geometry.

Group leader: Vlad Soukhanovskii

We compare experimental results with analytical theory and computational models of plasma behavior to develop novel diagnostic measurements and execute state-of-the-art MFE experiments focused on both the core and boundary of high-performance MFE plasmas. Our advanced diagnostics are relevant to one of the most ambitious energy projects in the world, ITER. We focus specifically on experiments conducted at the National Spherical Torus Experiment Upgrade (NSTX-U) at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

High-Energy-Density Science

Associate Division Leader: David Bradley

Our research in high-energy-density (HED) physics includes astrophysics, atomic physics, spectroscopy, radiation transport, planetary science, and advanced diagnostic development and supports major LLNL programs. Using dynamic compression techniques and advanced diagnostics, we explore the behavior of matter at high-atmosphere pressures and at high temperatures. We reproduce the physical states existing inside stars, planets, and nuclear weapons.

Ongoing work includes laser–plasma interactions, particle acceleration, harmonic generation, short-pulse laser physics, and magnetic fusion. We explore inertial confinement fusion and weapons physics at the National Ignition Facility. We carry out our HED science work at major national and international facilities, ranging from synchrotrons and free electron x-ray lasers to z-pinches and laser plasmas. We develop and apply theoretical and computational models to questions of atomic physics, statistical physics, radiation opacities, HED plasmas, laser–matter interactions, and transport.

To advance HED research, enhance interactions with the international research community, and provide venues for training new scientists, we operate two intermediate scale facilities: the Jupiter Laser Facility and the electron beam ion trap.

Learn more about our research groups by expanding the sections below.

Group leader: Yuan Ping

We develop and use dynamic compression techniques and advanced diagnostics to explore the behavior of matter at millions to billions of atmospheres pressures, conditions exceeding the atomic unit of pressure (~100 million atmospheres), and to reproduce states existing deep inside stars, sub-stellar objects, and planets. This fundamental research is giving a new understanding to core shell chemistry, the behavior of solids at high pressures, the evolution of planets, the potential for controlled thermonuclear plasmas, and a wide variety of national security applications.

Group leader: Marilyn Schneider

We study the radiation properties of plasmas. These properties range from the basic atomic physics of isolated ions to opacities and radiation flow in hot dense matter to electron-positron pair production. The plasmas are produced at laser facilities such as the National Ignition Facility, the Jupiter Laser Facility, and the electron beam ion trap.

Group leader: Steve Libby

Our focus is understanding and computing the microscopic physics of hot and warm dense plasmas, with typical applications to laser-produced plasmas, inertial fusion, stockpile stewardship, and astrophysics. To do this, we develop and apply cutting-edge theoretical and computational models in many electron relativistic and non-relativistic atomic physics, statistical physics, radiation opacities, and plasma equations of state and transport.

We use our computational models to produce the detailed opacities and plasma equations of state required for radiation-hydrodynamics simulations. In parallel, we also apply our computational techniques to collaborate on the design of experiments aimed at probing the physics of inertial fusion and other plasmas. Additionally, we study the physics of short-pulse, laser-driven high harmonics and the development of quantum coherent sensors for security applications.

Group leaders: Bernard Kozioziemski (imaging) and Sabrina Nagel (detection)

We develop and deploy advanced diagnostics and measurement techniques at the National Ignition Facility.

Career Opportunities

We’re always looking for talented scientists to join our team.

Everything we do supports LLNL missions in foundational science, defense technology, stockpile stewardship, nuclear threat reduction, and space science and security. If you’re interested in joining our team, browse our open positions.

In the News

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Capabilities & Facilities

Our researchers utilize world-class scientific capabilities and modern high-performance computing facilities to support Laboratory programs. Listed below are LLNL’s state-of-the-art capabilities commonly used by our scientists.