Ribbon medal

Program Accomplishments

LDRD-funded research explores the frontiers of science and technology in emerging mission spaces, with projects guided by an extremely creative, talented team of scientists and engineers. 

Featured Research

LDRD funded 244 projects in fiscal year 2020. Brief summaries of each project can be found in the Project Highlights section of our report. Here, we provide a closer look at a handful of projects that underscore the exciting, innovative research in this year’s LDRD portfolio.

Scientific Leadership and Service

LDRD projects are distinguished by their mission-driven creativity. LDRD-funded research often launches stellar careers, initiates strategic collaborations, produces game-changing technical capabilities, and even lays the foundation for entirely new fields of science. It is no surprise that every year, LDRD principal investigators from LLNL are recognized for the groundbreaking results of a project or long-term contributions to their fields. The following examples highlight recognition received during fiscal year 2020, attesting to the exceptional talents of these researchers and underscoring the vitality of Livermore’s LDRD program.


Felicie Albert

Félicie Albert
Kavli Fellow, National Academy of Sciences

As a new elected Kavli fellow of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Félicie Albert was invited to present a poster at the annual U.S. Kavli Frontiers of Science symposium, where she discussed her research on using plasmas produced by intense lasers as particle accelerators and x-ray light sources. Albert currently serves as the deputy director of LLNL’s High Energy Density Science Center. She is a fellow of the American Physical Society and a senior member of the Optical Society of America.

“I am really honored to have been selected as a Kavli fellow and to have been invited to the U.S. Kavli Frontiers of Science Symposium. The event was a great way to showcase the work we do at LLNL using lasers.”

Peter Beiersdorfer

Peter Beiersdorfer
Fellow, American Astronomical Society

Peter Beiersdorfer’s selection as a fellow of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) builds on the recognition he received with his previous Laboratory Astrophysics Prize from AAS. During his career, Beiersdorfer has pioneered techniques to reproduce conditions in the sun’s atmosphere, interstellar space, the centers of galaxies, and on comets. A major focus of his research is characterizing atomic and molecular diagnostics as revealed by their x-ray spectra. His studies of emissions from the inner electron shells of iron, oxygen, neon, silicon, and sulfur are used to interpret the physical conditions in astronomical environments near and far. His work on x-ray emission from charge exchange revealed the importance of this process in cometary atmospheres.


Chance Carter

J. Chance Carter
Fellow, Society of Applied Spectroscopy

Chance Carter was selected as a fellow of the Society of Applied Spectroscopy for his exceptional contributions to spectroscopy. His achievements include development of spectroscopic-based analytical methods and systems, remote and standoff Raman and infrared spectroscopy, and fiber-optic sensors. 


williams Pitz

William Pitz
Fellow, Society of Automotive Engineering

The Society of Automotive Engineering selected physicist William (Bill) Pitz as a fellow in recognition of his significant impact on the development of mobility technology through leadership, research, and innovation. His research at LLNL includes studies of combustion phenomena in various types of engines. 


Bronis de Supinski

Bronis de Supinski
Fellow, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers named Bronis de Supinski as a fellow in recognition of his leadership in the design and use of large-scale computing systems. As chief technology officer for Livermore Computing, he is responsible for formulating LLNL's large-scale computing strategy and overseeing its implementation. His research interests include compilers, tools, and runtime systems, particularly programming models. He also chairs the OpenMP Language Committee. 

“I am pleased to be elevated to an IEEE fellow. I am grateful to my colleagues for their essential contributions to the research and system development that are the hallmark of my achievements. These achievements have enabled me to reach a goal that I set for myself many years ago—to be a world-leading computer scientist.”


Carol Woodward

Carol Woodward
Fellow, Association for Women in Mathematics

The Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) named computational scientist Carol Woodward a fellow, recognizing her commitment to supporting and advancing women in the mathematical sciences. A computational mathematician in LLNL’s Center for Applied Scientific Computing since 1996, Woodward’s research focuses on nonlinear solvers and time-integration methods and software. She is part of the DOE FASTMath SciDAC Institute project to improve numerical software for use in DOE applications. She is developing integration methods for transmission power grid simulation as part of DOE’s advanced grid modeling program and for climate simulations as part of the greater SciDAC program.

“Being selected as an AWM fellow is special to me. Promoting the amazing work that women do in mathematics, as well as encouraging equal treatment for women, have been causes I strongly support and have worked hard to develop. The AWM does so much amazing work in support of women and girls in mathematics, and I find it a humbling honor to be recognized by them.”

Other Awards

Benjamin Santer

Bert Bolin Award, American Geophysical Union

Atmospheric scientist Benjamin Santer was honored with the American Geophysical Union’s 2020 Bert Bolin Award, recognizing groundbreaking research or leadership in global environmental change. Santer’s work focuses on climate model evaluation, the use of statistical methods in climate science, and the identification of natural and anthropogenic "fingerprints" in observed climate records. His early research on the climatic effects of combined changes in greenhouse gases and sulfate aerosols contributed to the historic "discernible human influence" conclusion of the 1995 IPCC report. His recent work attempts to identify anthropogenic fingerprints in a number of climate variables, such as tropopause height, atmospheric water vapor, the temperature of the stratosphere and troposphere, oceanic heat content, and ocean-surface temperatures in hurricane formation regions.

“This award has deep personal meaning for me. I’ve never forgotten Bert Bolin’s kindness and encouragement. The lecture will be an opportunity to pay tribute to a great man and a great scientist.”

John Dawson Award, American Physical Society

Three LLNL scientists received the 2020 John Dawson Award for Excellence in Plasma Physics Research from the American Physical Society. The team generated Weibel-mediated collisionless shocks in the laboratory, informing a broad range of energetic astrophysical scenarios, plasma physics, and experiments that use high-energy and high-power lasers at plasma science facilities. 

Collisionless shocks have been of intense scientific interest for more than half a century. They are a fixture in astrophysical plasmas and are believed to generate and amplify magnetic fields in the universe and accelerate particles as a source of cosmic rays in a variety of objects, including colliding galaxies, supernova explosions, and gamma-ray bursts.

Hye-Sook Park

Hye-Sook Park

“It is a great honor to receive this award. I truly appreciate all the team members and the fact that our devotion to great science has been recognized. I am thrilled to be a part of the work that solved a small piece of the puzzle of supernova explosions.”


Dmitri Ryutov

Dmitri Ryutov

“Being a theorist, I enjoy working on projects where theory is closely coupled to an ongoing experiment and helps in the decision making. It was a great privilege for me to work with outstanding LLNL experimentalists. We have made one more step toward a better understanding of the processes driven by supernova explosions and other energetic events occurring in the universe.”


James Ross

James Steven Ross

“The idea of generating collisionless shocks was proposed ten years ago. It took a combination of improved physics understanding and new diagnostic capabilities to make this project successful. I find it very exciting that we can use the world’s largest laser to create centimeter-scale plasmas that are relevant to astrophysical phenomena spanning light years.”


DOE Office of Science Early Career Research Program Award

Federica Coppari and Erin Nuccio
Federica Coppari (left) and Erin Nuccio are recipients of the DOE Office of Science Early Career Research Program award.

Two scientists who started their careers at LLNL as postdoctoral researchers and went on to lead LDRD-sponsored research received awards this year from the DOE Office of Science Early Career Research Program. The program is designed to bolster the nation’s scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during crucial early career years, when many scientists do their most formative work. Under the program, DOE national laboratory staff are awarded $500,000 per year for five years to further their research.

Physicist Federica Coppari, whose work on large laser facilities helped lead to the discovery of the atomic structure of superionic ice, was one of this year’s award recipients. Coppari joined the Lab in 2011 as a postdoctoral researcher, and today she works on developing new experimental platforms to understand material behavior at extreme conditions, with a focus on the physics of phase transitions, melting, and material equations of state.

Giant lasers can compress and heat matter to extreme states. When combined with bright x-ray sources, they become very powerful tools for investigating the atomic-level structural changes induced by strong and ultrafast compression. Coppari’s experiments are conducted in facilities such as LLNL’s National Ignition Facility and at synchrotrons, where she uses ultrafast x-ray diffraction and extended x-ray absorption fine-structure diagnostics to characterize material properties at extreme conditions.

Coppari plans to use the DOE funding to investigate mixing and metastability in warm dense matter, with an emphasis on planetary constituent materials. “Matter deep inside planets is at extreme pressures and temperatures, and knowledge of its properties is key to improving our understanding of planetary formation and interior structure,” she said. “It is extremely important to know how the different constituents mix (or unmix) when subjected to extreme conditions, although this is far from being understood.”

“Pulling together ultrafast compression with x-ray and optical diagnostics, my research will investigate the transformations happening at extreme conditions of pressure, temperature, and timescale in complex, multi-component systems to obtain a better understanding of their mixing properties and pathways to phase transitions,” Coppari explained.

Microbiologist Erin Nuccio was selected for her research in fundamental systems biology, including her work studying the role of microbes in bio-geochemical cycling processes using a systems biology approach.

Nuccio started at LLNL in 2013 as a postdoc studying plant-microbe interactions. She has served as a staff scientist since 2016, and is now studying how microbes control carbon and nutrient cycling in soil, with a focus on the rhizosphere and hyphosphere. She uses stable isotopes to track interactions and nutrient exchanges in the complex soil environment.

“Throughout my career, I have been keenly interested in the fundamental ecology of plant-microbe-soil interactions, and the role these relationships play in terrestrial carbon cycling and ecosystem sustainability,” she said.

According to Nuccio, microbes engage in a lively ‘cross-talk’ that we are only beginning to understand through next-generation sequencing and metabolomics technologies. She looks forward to digging deeper into the fungal hyphosphere—an active site of soil nutrient cycling that we know little about, although it is a hotspot for fungal-bacterial interactions. For fungi that cannot decompose plant material by themselves, this is a key zone for nutrient foraging. Nuccio expects fungal interactions with the microbial community to be of paramount importance in this region.

“It’s an incredible honor to be selected for this award. It is a game-changer for building my research career at LLNL.”

Vaccine Delivery Platform Adapted to Fight Biothreats and Other Dangerous Pathogens

Biotechnology developed through a series of LDRD-funded projects is now poised to serve as a versatile platform for drug and vaccine delivery across a range of health challenges. Initially developed to study membrane protein function, this tiny, yet highly powerful nanotechnology is being used to defend against biological threats. It is also being adapted to serve as a potent, safe, targeted vaccine delivery platform.

Tailored nanoparticle platform delivers customized vaccines

The biotechnology got its start in 2005 with a three-year LDRD-funded research project led by LLNL chemist Paul Hoeprich. According to Hoeprich, his research team explored ways to leverage research in cell membrane biochemistry to better understand the mechanics of drug transport into cells. “We brought these ideas together, developing our initial concept for a nanoscale drug delivery platform,” said Hoeprich. 

research spotlight 1
LLNL’s NLP vaccine delivery platform can be fabricated with adjuvants and antigens that are tailored to respond to multiple types of pathogens. (Rendering by Tim Carpenter.)

During several LDRD-funded projects spanning more than a decade, investigators developed and tested the nanolipoprotein particle (NLP) platform, which can be tailored to activate the immune system against multiple pathogens. The platform’s foundation consists of naturally occurring molecules that mimic cell membranes. They can self-assemble, similar to interlocking building blocks, and provide a platform for connecting other biomolecules. 

For example, scientists can attach adjuvants (molecules designed to boost vaccine potency) and antigens (molecules capable of inducing a specific immune response) to an NLP platform, making it possible to administer both types of molecules in a single controlled package aimed at responding to a specific type of pathogen. The disc-shaped platform measures between 8 and 25 nanometers in diameter, making it the ideal size to leverage natural pathways into cells, particularly immune cells relevant to vaccine delivery. 

Rather than serving as a single-pathogen solution, the NLP platform provides the foundation to fabricate multiple types of vaccines. And since the particles are naturally present in the human body, vaccines produced using the NLP platform are less likely to result in toxicity. 

Biodefense solutions

The initial focus of LLNL’s research regarding NLP-based vaccines was their potential to protect military personnel and first responders against biothreat pathogens with no existing vaccines, or vaccines that require multiple doses to elicit a protective immune response. 

As the technology matured through these initial LDRD investments, additional funding provided by the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) enabled LLNL scientists to focus on ways they could use NLP technology to develop a vaccine capable of responding to one of the most infectious bacterial pathogens in existence, Francisella tularensis, the bacterium that causes tularemia. Although the pathogen is rare, it has a high mortality rate, even at low doses. It is considered to be a potential biothreat agent based on its extremely low infectious dose.

LLNL investigators are collaborating with scientists from the University of New Mexico to develop a multi-antigen vaccine capable of stimulating strong antibody and T-cell responses, providing protection against the bacteria, even when aerosolized. It uses the NLP delivery platform to co-deliver the tailored combination of antigens and adjuvants. They recently expanded their collaboration to include Tulane University as they explore ways to optimize the tularemia vaccine for clinical use and produce it at scale.

Similarly, in 2011, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided funding for a collaborative research initiative, co-led by LLNL and Loyola University, aimed at developing an improved vaccine to protect against Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax. 

Public health applications

research spotlight 2
LDRD investments over more than a decade enabled LLNL scientists, including biologist Matt Coleman (left) and immunologist Amy Rasley, to explore how NLP technology can be used to develop new vaccines and deliver cancer therapeutics.

Biotechnology experts at LLNL continue to fine-tune the NLP technology, recognizing its potential to address other types of pathogens. For example, in 2016, with NIH funding, LLNL scientists collaborated with researchers at the University of California (UC), Irvine, to explore how NLP technology could be used to develop a vaccine that provides protection against chlamydia, the most common sexually transmitted pathogen in the world.

Building on this initial work, in 2019, NIH provided additional funding to establish a cooperative research center and expand these efforts. LLNL leads the center, which includes a multidisciplinary team of experts in immunology and nanotechnology from LLNL, UC Irvine, and UC Davis. Together, they are exploring the most promising antigen formulas, as well as how to refine the NLP platform to effectively deliver the chlamydia vaccine.

Coronavirus vaccine development

The most recent application NLP technology involves the search for a broad-spectrum, universal coronavirus vaccine, capable of providing protection against coronavirus pathogens such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. With an LDRD investment in this new research, which launched in 2020, LLNL investigators are collaborating with ConserV Bioscience, a vaccine development company.

A broad-spectrum vaccine is a necessary next step to protect against continued mutations of SARS-CoV-2, as well as new coronavirus strains that become more virulent and pose a pandemic threat. The team will focus on designing a vaccine that targets regions of the virus proteins that are not susceptible to change, enabling it to provide protection as the virus mutates. In addition, researchers anticipate that the NLP platform will reduce the timeframe needed to develop new vaccines. 


2005 LDRD investments fund initial explorations of a new biotechnology to enhance vaccine development and delivery.
2011 LLNL investigators start exploring ways to use NLP technology to protect against biothreats and deliver cancer therapeutics.
2014 LLNL starts exploring use of NLP technology for subunit vaccines, collaborating with Synthetic Genomics, a biotech company, to produce vaccines based on embedded membrane proteins and self-replicating mRNA.
2016 NIH funding supports development of a chlamydia vaccine using NLP technology.
Follow‑on NIH funding in 2019 established a cooperative research center.
2017 NLP technology licensed by EVOQ Therapeutics for cancer immunotherapy, leveraging the platform’s capabilities to deliver personalized vaccines to patients’ lymph nodes and activate the immune system to attack cancer cells.
2020 DTRA-funded research begins, focused on using NLP technology to develop and optimize a tularemia vaccine.
2021 LLNL initiates an industry collaboration to explore how NLP technology can be used to develop a broad‑spectrum vaccine against coronavirus pathogens.

Related LDRD Projects

  • PI Paul Hoeprich (Project 06-SI-003)
  • PI Craig Blanchette (Projects 09-LW-007 & 15-LW-023)
  • PI Amy Rasley (Project 11-ERD-016)
  • PI Nicholas Fischer (Projects 11-LW-015 & 20-ERD-004)
  • PI Matthias Frank (Project 12-ERD-031)
  • PI Sean Gilmore (Project 17-LW-051)