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 263 projects in fiscal year 2021. Brief summaries of each project are included in the Project Highlights section of our online report at ldrd-annual.llnl.gov. 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 2021, attesting to the exceptional talents of these researchers and underscoring the vitality of Livermore’s LDRD program.


Rob Falgout

Rob Falgout
Fellow, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics

The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) selected Livermore computational mathematician Rob Falgout as an esteemed member of its 2021 Class of SIAM Fellows. The prestigious honor recognizes Falgout, a Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff in LLNL’s Center for Applied Scientific Computing, for his “contributions to the theory, practice and large-scale applications of multilevel solvers and for widely used parallel software,” as well as his outstanding service to the community, according to the organization. Falgout is best known in the field of mathematics for his development of multigrid methods and for hypre, one of the world’s most popular parallel multigrid codes.

“It’s an incredible honor to be named a SIAM fellow and to be listed alongside such remarkably talented people.”

Christopher Stolz

Christopher Stolz
Fellow, SPIE, the International Society for Optics and Photonics

SPIE named Christopher Stoltz a fellow of the international society for optics and photonics in recognition of his technical achievement and his service to the general optics community. Stoltz, an associate program manager in charge of the National Ignition Facility (NIF) optics supply, has worked at LLNL in the laser directorate as a thin film engineer for more than 30 years; first in Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation (AVLIS) and then NIF. Throughout his career, Stoltz has focused on understanding how micron scale and smaller defects limit the laser fluence in complex optical interference coating structures. Stolz helped pioneer the use of Ion Beam Sputtering (IBS) for high fluence pulsed-laser systems.

“I am very honored to be recognized by SPIE for not only my technical contributions to the laser program at LLNL, but also for my service to both SPIE and Optica (formerly OSA) conference leadership.”

Other Awards

Bill Goldstein

Secretary’s Exceptional Service Award, Department of Energy
Administrator’s Distinguished Service Gold Award, National Nuclear Security Administration

Former Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory director Bill Goldstein received honors from the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration in recognition of his significant accomplishments as a scientist, leader in national security, and director of LLNL. In a virtual ceremony, then-acting Secretary of Energy David Huizenga conferred the Secretary’s Exceptional Service Award to Goldstein in recognition of his “dedication and service to the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Department of Energy, and the nation.”


William Pitz

Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award, Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office

Livermore engineer William Pitz has earned a lifetime distinguished achievement award from the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office for his significant contributions to the field of chemical kinetics. Pitz, along with retiree Charles Westbrook, produced a chemical kinetic study of fuel additives for engine knock in spark ignition engines, a feat that earned them the 1991 Horning Award from the Society of Automotive Engineers. Their area of research is the development of chemical kinetic mechanisms for conventional fuels like gasoline and diesel fuel, and also for next-generation fuels, such as new types of biofuels being considered as potential replacements for fossil fuels.


Dylan Hoagland

Mark Mills Award, American Nuclear Society

Dylan Hoagland was honored with the 2021 American Nuclear Society (ANS) Mark Mills award. The Mark Mills Award is conferred by the Education, Training and Workforce Division of the ANS and is presented every year to the graduate student author or authors who submit the best original technical paper contributing to the advancement of science and engineering related to the atomic nucleus.




Omar Hurricane

Edward Teller Award, American Nuclear Society

Omar Hurricane, chief scientist for Livermore’s inertial confinement fusion (ICF) program, is a recipient of the 2021 Edward Teller Award. The Fusion Energy Division of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) presented the award to Hurricane for his “visionary scientific insights and leadership of National Ignition Facility (NIF) experiments resulting in the achievement of fuel gain, an alpha-heating-dominated plasma, and a burning plasma.” Hurricane was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society in 2016 in recognition of these contributions to ICF leading to the first laboratory demonstration of an alpha-heating dominated plasma. Established in 1991, the Edward Teller Award recognizes pioneering research and leadership in the use of lasers, ion-particle beams, or other high-intensity drivers to produce unique high-density matter for scientific research and to conduct investigations of inertial fusion. The medal is named in honor of the late distinguished physicist, LLNL director emeritus.


DOE Office of Science Early Career Research Program Award

Two LLNL scientists

Two LLNL scientists were among 83 individuals nationwide selected for the 2021 Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science Early Career Research Program award. The Early Career Research Program bolsters 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, typical awards for DOE national laboratory staff are $500,000 per year for five years.

“Maintaining our nation’s brain trust of world-class scientists and researchers is one of DOE’s top priorities—and that means we need to give them the resources they need to succeed early on in their careers,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said. “These awardees show exceptional potential to help us tackle America’s toughest challenges and secure our economic competitiveness for decades to come.”

Andrea Schmidt, a physicist in the National Security Engineering Division in the Engineering Directorate, was nominated in the High Energy Density Physics category for her work in magnetically driven Z-pinch plasmas. These plasmas can be used to study fundamental plasma physics and to produce radiation of various types for different applications.

“It is an incredible honor to be chosen for this award,” Schmidt said. “It will allow me to spend more time on discovery science over the next few years, and fund activities that are very complementary to my program work.”

Schmidt joined the Lab as a postdoctoral researcher in 2011 and recently hit her 10-year mark as a staff scientist. She plans to use the DOE funding to make fundamental measurements of current flow in a dense plasma focus Z-pinch that “will help us understand and improve the device.” She intends to carry out the work alongside postdocs and other staff members.

Xue Zheng, a research scientist in the Atmospheric, Earth, and Energy Division in the Physical and Life Sciences Directorate, was nominated in the Office of Biological and Environmental Research category for her work in aerosol-cloud processes in which she analyzes atmospheric observations and climate models to advance the understanding of cloud response to aerosols over ocean and land.

“I feel earnestly grateful to win the award,” Zheng said. “I’ve been inspired by previous award winners’ research in my area since I started my postdoc in the Lab. It is a tremendous honor for me to receive this award.”

Aerosol particles in the atmosphere can affect the Earth’s climate directly by scattering or absorbing radiation or indirectly by changing the properties of clouds (such as cloud particle size or cloud lifetime). This “aerosol indirect effect” on liquid-phase clouds remains highly uncertain in present and future climate scenarios. Zheng’s project uses DOE’s long-term Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) observations, complemented by satellite retrievals and numerical simulations, to study the aerosol indirect effect on liquid-phase clouds.

Zheng joined the Laboratory in 2014 as a postdoctoral researcher. Her research area focuses on cloud parameterizations in climate models with her primary interest in boundary layer cloud processes and aerosol-cloud interactions. The additional funding will allow her to implement advanced statistical techniques to better detect the aerosol–cloud interactions in DOE ARM observations and DOE Energy Exascale Earth System Model (E3SM).

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NIF researchers stood at the threshold of fusion ignition after achieving a yield of more than 1.3 megajoules (MJ), a 25X increase over NIF’s 2018 record yield.
Credit: John Jett

NIF experiment puts researchers at the threshold of fusion ignition

The National Ignition Facility (NIF), located at LLNL, is the world’s largest and highest-energy laser. NIF’s 192 powerful laser beams, housed in a 10-story building the size of 3 football fields, can deliver more than 2 million joules of ultraviolet laser energy in billionth-of-a-second pulses onto a target about the size of a pencil eraser.

NIF enables scientists to create extreme states of matter, including temperatures of 100 million degrees and pressures that exceed 100 billion times Earth’s atmosphere. Experiments conducted on NIF make significant contributions to national and global security, could help pave the way to practical fusion energy, and further the nation’s leadership in basic science and technology and economic competitiveness. Ignition experiments at NIF are advancing the science toward the eventual use of fusion as a safe, clean, and virtually unlimited energy source.

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Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Director Bruce Tarter, Secretary of Energy Federico Pena, and Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher participated in the groundbreaking on May 29, 1997.

A Milestone in Laser Fusion

On Aug. 8, 2021, an experiment at NIF made a significant step toward ignition, achieving a yield of more than 1.3 megajoules (MJ). This advancement puts researchers at the threshold of fusion ignition, an important goal of the NIF, and opens access to a new experimental regime. The experiment was enabled by focusing laser light from NIF onto a target that produces a hot-spot the diameter of a human hair, generating more than 10 quadrillion watts of fusion power for 100 trillionths of a second.

“These extraordinary results from NIF advance the science that NNSA depends on to modernize our nuclear weapons and production as well as open new avenues of research,” said Jill Hruby, DOE under secretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA administrator.

The central mission of NIF is to provide experimental insight and data for NNSA’s science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program. Experiments in pursuit of fusion ignition are an important part of this effort. They provide data in an important experimental regime that is extremely difficult to access, furthering our understanding of the fundamental processes of fusion ignition and burn and enhancing our simulation tools to support stockpile stewardship. Fusion ignition is also an important gateway to enable access to high fusion
yields in the future.

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A color-enhanced image of the inside of a NIF preamplifier support structure. Credit: Damien Jemison.

“This result is a historic step forward for inertial confinement fusion research, opening a fundamentally new regime for exploration and the advancement of our critical national security missions. It is also a testament to the innovation, ingenuity, commitment, and grit of this team and the many researchers in this field over the decades who have steadfastly pursued this goal,” said LLNL Director Kim Budil. “For me it demonstrates one of the most important roles of the national labs—our relentless commitment to tackling the biggest and most important scientific grand challenges and finding solutions where others might be dissuaded by the obstacles.”

Collaboration, Dedication, Appreciation

The experiment built on several advances gained from insights developed over the last several years by the NIF team including new diagnostics; target fabrication improvements
in the hohlraum, capsule shell and fill tube; improved laser precision; and design changes
to increase the energy coupled to the implosion and the compression of the implosion.

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This artist’s rendering shows a NIF target pellet inside a hohlraum capsule with laser beams entering through openings on either end. The beams compress and heat the target to the necessary conditions for nuclear fusion to occur. Ignition experiments on NIF are the result of more than 50 years of inertial confinement fusion research and development, opening the door to exploration of previously inaccessible physical regimes.

Many of those insights and innovations were transformed into solutions through funding provided by LDRD programs at NNSA laboratories. LDRD investments in this foundational work over the last two decades spanned key science and technology areas, including target fabrication, diagnostic tools, and laser-plasma interactions.

One key area of innovation involves a broad range of LDRD-funded work related to the design and fabrication of the targets used in NIF experiments. NIF targets consist of fuel capsules suspended inside hollow metal cylinders called hohlraums. Since target design plays a major role in the success of fusion experiments, the targets are fabricated to meet precise specifications for each experiment, including the capsule’s material composition, density profiles, spherical shape, and surface finish.

Over the last decade, LDRD-funded work related to target design and fabrication included a focus on developing novel materials and nanoscale fabrication techniques to assemble structures measuring less than 100 nanometers and being able to manipulate the material to carefully control the thickness of the target’s layers. For example, an LDRD project at LLNL made it possible to fabricate high-density carbon material with unprecedented precision for use as the fuel capsule’s shell, known as the ablator. These innovative techniques were used for the target fabrication in the high-yield NIF experiment on Aug. 8, 2021.

LDRD-funded research teams continue to explore other innovative target designs. Their work includes development of novel hohlraum shapes, advanced ignition target designs, and capsule designs optimized for symmetric implosions with higher capsule-absorbed energy. These projects lay the groundwork for future NNSA pathways to even higher neutron yields. Additionally, LDRD-funded research allowed scientists and engineers across the country to capture images of the Aug. 8 NIF experiment through their work on integrated circuits, imaging technology, microelectronics, and radiation.

“This significant advance was only made possible by the sustained support, dedication and hard work of a very large team over many decades, including those who have supported the effort at LLNL, industry, and academic partners and our collaborators at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories, the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics and General Atomics,” said Mark Herrmann, LLNL’s deputy program director for Fundamental Weapons Physics. “This result builds on the work and successes of the entire team, including the people who pursued inertial confinement fusion from the earliest days of our Laboratory. They should also share in the excitement of this success.”

Looking ahead, access to this new experimental regime will inspire new avenues for research and provide the opportunity to benchmark modeling used to understand the proximity to ignition. Plans for repeat experiments are well underway as researchers take additional shots at producing more fusion energy than the laser energy needed to start the reaction. In the coming months, LLNL scientists will use precisely manufactured equipment to closely observe the hydrodynamics of the implosion and take further steps towards ignition.

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Shot-time image from the NIF Target Chamber of an x-ray source creating a plasma wind on system-generated electromagnetic pulse (SGEMP) test objects. The SGEMP campaign, led by Sandia National Laboratories and the U.K.’s Atomic Weapons Establishment, is part of NIF’s National Security Applications mission; its goal is to help validate simulation codes designed to determine the effects of SGEMP on various materials.

NIF Timeline

May 1997 NIF groundbreaking ceremony
June 1999 Target Chamber installed
October 2001 First laser light created
May 2003 NIF produces 10.4 kJ of ultraviolet light in a single laser beam, setting a world record for laser performance
March 2009 Formal certification of NIF Project completion by the National Nuclear Security Administration
Summer 2009 192-beam experimental shots to Target Chamber center begin
July 2012 More than 1.8 MJ of ultraviolet energy and 500 trillion watts of peak power delivered to Target Chamber center
September 2013 NIF implosion yields more energy than the energy absorbed by the fuel, a key step on the path to ignition
January 2014 NIF experiment produces 27 kJ of fusion energy; more than half of the yield is attributed to alpha heating A
August 2017 An experiment produces 54 kJ of energy, the highest yield to date
May 2018 The NIF lasers set a new energy record, firing 2.15 MJ of energy into the Target Chamber
August 2021 An experiment achieved a 1.35 MJ of fusion energy output, more than 25 times the record yield set in 2018, advancing NIF to the threshold of ignition