From ground to space, Tess Light’s leadership far-reaching

As chief scientist, she advises and influences the strategic course of a national program

October 14, 2021

Tess Light

Tracy “Tess” Lavezzi Light, a scientist in Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Intelligence and Space Research division, has been awarded the distinguished 2021 Los Alamos Global Security Medal, which recognizes the exceptional achievements of active or recently retired employees who have made significant contributions to the Laboratory’s global security mission.

“For more than 20 years at the Laboratory, Tess has helped guide major projects with impacts across our mission. She is an ambassador for the Laboratory and a skilled defender of U.S. interests in the complex global geopolitical landscape,” said Laboratory Director Thom Mason. “I am honored to award her the Global Security Medal.”

Since 2004, Light has provided nationally recognized expertise and inspirational leadership for the Laboratory’s Space-based Nuclear Detonation Detection Program, which is the central National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) component of the U.S. Nuclear Detonation Detection System (USNDS), a multi-agency program whose primary mission is to detect and assess nuclear detonations occurring anywhere on Earth, from the ground to space.

Light’s leadership touches all aspects of Los Alamos’ role in developing and deploying detection and measurement payloads for space, providing recommendations on operational settings, as well as analyzing and interpreting data from these payloads program.

Light came to the Laboratory as a postdoctoral researcher in 1999 with the goal of contributing to the treaty verification program. She then became a researcher and analyst, and later a science team leader in the USNDS/Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Program.

“I have been following Tess Light’s work since she first came to the Lab as a postdoc. Her work has clearly been foundational to the evolution of the EMP Sensing project from its early focus on R&D to a mature and sustainable project of momentous impact,” said Nancy Jo Nicholas, associate Laboratory director for Global Security. “Her efforts dramatically advanced the technical quality of and community confidence in the EMP information products, both of which are fundamental for the actionable information provided to the highest levels of the government for development of the U.S. response from a potential nuclear detonation event. Equally impressive is the outreach work Tess does as a scientific ambassador. She truly embodies excellence in community relations, a key component of the Laboratory’s simultaneous strategy.”

In 2016, Light was selected as the Los Alamos USNDS chief scientist to represent the interests and capabilities of Los Alamos and NNSA among the stakeholders of the USNDS. In her role, Light advises, influences, leads and helps guide the strategic course of the national program.

This is particularly noteworthy given the rapidly evolving global threat landscape.

She also represents Los Alamos on a select body of chief scientists and high-level representatives from NNSA, Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC), U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), U.S. Space Command, Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center, Department of State, the Intelligence Community, Sandia National Laboratories, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. This body provides stewardship for the comprehensive signature science capabilities of USNDS for the present and future.

Light’s passion and vision — which have served the EMP project so well for over 15 years — have been applied across the entire Los Alamos SNDD Program and at the highest levels of the national USNDS community.

Light holds a B.A. in Physics from Reed College, and M.S. and Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Minnesota. She has received many honors and awards including the Los Alamos Fellows Prize for Leadership (2017), the Los Alamos Director’s Achievement Award (2005), and multiple individual and team Los Alamos Distinguished Performance Awards.

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