Guiding the next generation

Anna Llobet honors Oppenheimer’s memory through action.

June 19, 2023

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Anna Llobet, an experimental physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, is the founder of the Summer Physics Camp for Young Women—a two-week science camp that gives New Mexican and Hawaiian students a chance to explore careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. “I believe it is extremely important that we bring the love and thrill of knowledge to everyone and make it easier for marginalized or underrepresented communities to find role models,” she says.

In 2020, Llobet joined the J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee (JROMC), an organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Lab’s first director and promoting the values he embodied.

The physics camp and JROMC share a common goal: to make science accessible and interesting to kids of all ages and backgrounds. Llobet believes educating students about the importance and relevance of science is essential for our society. “Science and technology have brought longevity to the human race, and hopefully science will be the basis to inform public policy when it comes to energy, conservation, defense, and exploration in the future,” Llobet says. “But for that, we need a society that trusts science from an educated standpoint.”

Small experiments, big effects

Born and raised in Barcelona, Spain, Llobet came to the Lab as a postdoctoral researcher in 2001. Her background is in materials science and neutron scattering, but in the past decade she has shifted to shock physics, the study of how materials respond to high pressure shockwaves, such as those produced by an explosion.

As part of the Safety and Surety group in the Lab’s Weapons Physics associate directorate, Llobet works at the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE), one of the most powerful linear accelerators in the world. Here, Llobet performs small-scale dynamic experiments with protons and materials science research with neutrons. Llobet’s experimental work, combined with supercomputing simulations, helps ensure the safety and effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear weapons. 

After more than two decades at the Lab, Llobet feels a special connection with many of her coworkers. “Very few of us were born and raised in Los Alamos and yet, after 22 years, they are my family away from my actual family,” she explains.

She also has grown to love the town of Los Alamos. “I truly believe this town and the Laboratory are amazing places where the arts, science, technology, and spirit of service and community bloom and feed into each other,” she says. “As a scientist and a person, I want to be relevant to my community, society, and the world’s future and that’s exactly what working here offers me.”

In 2022, Llobet received the Laboratory’s Community Relations medal for her leadership and contributions across the region.

 Llobet gestures toward the Oppenheimer house, where the famed physicist lived during the Manhattan Project.

A lasting legacy

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Llobet gestures toward the Oppenheimer house, where the famed physicist lived during the Manhattan Project.

In 1971, a group of Oppenheimer’s Los Alamos colleagues formed JROMC to honor him and his work by making science education accessible throughout northern New Mexico and by preserving documents and artifacts related to Oppenheimer. 

When Llobet was nominated to be a JROMC member in 2020, she says she was unfamiliar with the committee and its goals. Most of what she knew came from the committee’s annual memorial lectures. She took the time to learn more and quickly grew enamored of JROMC’s history, mission, and people. “I realized their mission was broader than what I thought, and the committee was a group of amazing people,” Llobet says.

One aspect of that history and mission is JROMC’s fight to nullify the Atomic Energy Commission’s 1954 decision to revoke Oppenheimer’s security clearance. After nearly two decades of disappointing results, the committee solicited letters of support from former Lab directors, other prominent scientists, and academics. In December 2022, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm signed a secretarial order that vacated the 1954 decision and acknowledged the seminal role that Oppenheimer played in U.S. history. 

For Llobet, the long-awaited decision was a welcome one. “I believe Oppenheimer was key in the success of the nuclear enterprise and the positioning of this country as a veil for worldwide democracy and peace,” she says. “I am extremely proud of the recent decision by the DOE secretary.”

Llobet says she has a great deal of admiration for the humble nature in which Oppenheimer conducted his work. “He could have sought to grow his own personal reputation after an amazing early career and yet, he felt the call to do what he could in front of the tragic progression of fascism in Europe and the war,” she explains. “Oppenheimer was not only a great scientist, he was also a teacher, a patriot, a leader, and a humanist. He cared deeply about his students and met with them daily.”

Through her work at the Laboratory, on JROMC, and the summer physics camp, Llobet is often reminded of Oppenheimer. “I can see his personal legacy and impact in many places in the Laboratory and our community,” she says. “It is hard to wrap your head around all the fields in which one can find his fingerprints in physics.” ★