Technical project manager
Detonator Production; Operational Excellence and Readiness
Cesil Alex says his immigrant experience and education have helped him connect with people who may think, act, or look differently from himself. “Coming to the U.S. as a child, I was able to assimilate and make friends with people from all over,” says Alex, who was born in India and raised in Florida, where he earned bachelor’s degrees in biology and finance and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. “My upbringing, and sometimes being wrongly judged, helps me empathize with others who feel marginalized and excluded.”
Despite not having a community when he moved to Los Alamos, Alex got involved in coaching kids’ soccer and volunteering for local organizations. He’s also made connections through Los Alamos National Laboratory's employee resource groups and by joining community volleyball and board-gaming groups that he learned about through social media.
At the Laboratory, Alex manages the production and modernization of detonators—small devices that trigger explosives—which involves collaborating with various Lab groups as well as stakeholders around the country. “I appreciate the push for the critical thinking that comes from a diverse workforce and the opportunities to learn from each other,” he says. ✪
“As a minority in the sciences, it can be difficult to find a sense of community,” Richard Alfaro says. “I seriously considered leaving the sciences prior to coming to the Lab.” But after arriving at Los Alamos in 2019 for a postdoctoral position, Alfaro found his place. “I was met with such a welcoming environment and had the opportunity to connect with amazing scientists and mentors who renewed my motivation and interest,” he says.
Alfaro conducts research to advance theories and generate insights from seismic data in support of nuclear explosion monitoring. “My work can be very computationally intensive,” he says. “On a typical work day, I often find myself generating code to solve new problems. I also make an effort to collaborate with others to improve not only our scientific research but our collective community at the Lab.”
Alfaro is a cofounding member of an employee-led volunteer group called Geoscientists United for Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (GUIDE). “Our goal is to make the Earth and Environmental Science division at Los Alamos a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible place to work,” he says. Alfaro describes GUIDE as a “collaborative community space where we are always learning from each other,” and he says the group aims to “to support the development of a multicultural workforce that attracts and retains diverse talent.” He praises the Lab for being “an inclusive place where you can make an impact through your research,” and adds, “You will find leaders here who share diverse backgrounds and perspectives.” ✫
Thermonuclear Plasma Physics
Steve Batha came to Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1998 and lost his eyesight in 2008. “Since becoming blind, my colleagues and managers have helped me to remain productive and able to contribute to the Lab’s missions,” he says. “The Lab has been good at supporting me so that I may continue my career.”
Batha’s work involves planning, executing, and analyzing high-energy density physics experiments. Although he enjoys his work, he has had challenges. “As a blind scientist, I face a lot of small irritations that need some planning and ingenuity to solve,” he says. Everyday activities such as getting around the Lab and using video conferencing platforms can be challenging, but assistive technology solves many issues. “Because I am at the manager level, I’m mostly telling people what to do; they are my hands and eyes. So, the physics is not affected,” he says.
Batha applauds the recent formation of the DiverseAbility employee resource group, which supports people with disabilities and empowers them to speak up. “Ask for help if you need it,” Batha says. “It’s good to remember that most people are not taught how to deal with blind people. The colleagues I work closely with have adjusted to my disability and figured out how to help me navigate through the day. They help even when not asked. That makes my work and my day much easier. I am very thankful for everyone’s generosity.” ✬
Waste Management Programs
The next time you’re stuck in traffic, look up: You might see Jocelyn Buckley’s plane overhead.
In the early 2000s, Buckley, who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, earned her pilot’s license and began to fly herself to and from work at Los Alamos National Laboratory, about 100 miles north of her home. Today Buckley teleworks, making flying a form of recreation rather than a necessity. But for Buckley, the years of commuting by plane were worth it: “I love my job,” she says.
At the Laboratory, Buckley reviews Laboratory projects with potential and realized impacts to specific sites that are slated for environmental investigation and remediation. Her efforts help ensure that the Laboratory conducts work in an environmentally sound manner and that Los Alamos has the space needed to complete projects that are key to accomplishing its national security mission.
“I would advise young people who are interested in working at Los Alamos to go for it,” Buckley says. A job at the Laboratory means the chance to experience advances in science and technology firsthand, she says, and affords ample opportunities for personal and professional growth. She encourages Laboratory employees to pursue hobbies and interests that aren’t work-related—such as flying a plane, perhaps. ✰
Explosive firing leader
After 23 years in the Air Force, Master Sergeant Daniel Cox started looking for jobs in which he could continue supporting national security and help ensure that the nation’s warfighters had the best tools available. In 2015, he landed at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where, as a firing leader, he performs and manages operations for high-explosive detonations. “I work side by side with scientists to better understand explosive properties used in America’s weapon systems,” he explains. “My Air Force experience aided me tremendously in the transition to this new and exciting job.”
Cox has found his work to be rewarding. “There are not many other places where you can blow things up for a living,” he says. Every day brings a variety of challenges, such as working with heavy machinery, troubleshooting equipment malfunctions, or evaluating whether a test area is a safe and controlled environment. The data he gathers from the detonations is fed into models that help predict how aging affects weapons in the nation’s nuclear stockpile.
Cox says the Lab is a place where employees have freedom to explore fields and career paths that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. For veterans, in particular, Los Alamos is a place where the goals and values adopted in the military are respected and represented and where one’s service to the nation can continue without the uniform. ✮
Research and development engineer
Space Electronics and Signal Processing
Magdalena Dale worked in research and development for industrial wind turbines before coming to Los Alamos. Since joining the Lab in 2015, Dale has contributed to the design, testing, and launch into space of four different instruments; three are currently in orbit and one is on the Mars Perseverance rover. “It’s exciting to know that something I worked on is out there in space right now,” she says. “I thought space would be another interesting and trendy area to work in, but I hadn’t appreciated the needs of our government in maintaining global security.” She now values the important impact she and her teams are having on space security.
Dale is part of several teams that develop technology that monitors for nuclear detonations in space (these types of detonations—and, in fact, all nuclear detonations—are banned by the Comprehensive Nuclear–Test–Ban Treaty). Dale was the engineering project lead for a small satellite project called the NanoSat Atmospheric Chemistry Hyperspectral Observation System. NACHOS, as it’s called, is the first CubeSat-based hyperspectral imaging system that can compete with traditional large-satellite instruments in chemical detection applications.
Dale notes that as one of a few women in her group, she feels some pressure to always be correct and not make mistakes. According to a 2019 U.S. Census Bureau report, female engineers represent only about 13 percent of the total engineering workforce in America. ✯
Space Science and Applications
When she was 17, Tatiana Espinoza moved from Ecuador to New Mexico with her mother, a doctor. The first couple of years were an adjustment—living in a new country, attending a new high school, and taking a full course load—while also learning English. After graduating, Espinoza enrolled at the University of New Mexico, where a class on climate change drew her to the sciences, and she learned about a scholarship that could take her to Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“The scholarship I applied for was to help with data entry for environmental compliance,” Espinoza says. “I was put on a list of potential interns, and I hoped I would get the position but there were a lot of candidates. Then one day, I got a call.”
That call was eight years, a bachelor’s degree, and two master’s degrees ago. Today, Espinoza builds radiation detectors that will, in the next year, fly to space on satellites to support the Comprehensive Nuclear–Test–Ban Treaty, which prohibits any type of nuclear detonation.
“I’m on a team that helps protect the world,” Espinoza says. “It makes me feel more safe, and because I have family in other countries, I feel like I’m keeping them safe, too.” ✩
High-energy density physicist
Thermonuclear Plasma Physics
Cathleen Fry always enjoyed math, so in high school she planned to become an engineer. Then during her freshman year of college at Tennessee Technological University, she found a different path: physics.
After earning a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from the University of Michigan, Fry landed a postdoctoral position and later a staff scientist job at Los Alamos National Laboratory. She works at the Lab’s Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE), where she plans and develops nuclear diagnostic experiments to better understand the physics of nuclear weapons.
Today, instead of nuclear testing, the United States relies heavily on nonnuclear and subcritical experiments coupled with advanced computer modeling and simulations to evaluate the health and extend the lifetimes of America’s nuclear weapons. This approach is called stockpile stewardship.
“A full nuclear test would escalate global tensions, and I’m excited to be a part of an effort to avoid needing that through science-based stewardship,” she says. Fry is a member of Prism, the Lab’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group, and she encourages her colleagues to “get involved in efforts to make Los Alamos a better place.” Additionally, she says that “being in an environment with great people with expertise in so many different things is an exciting opportunity to work on multidisciplinary problems.” ✰
In 1986, Elaine Gallegos’ father suggested that she follow in his footsteps. “He had made a career working at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and his dream was to have at least one of his seven children follow suit,” she says. Gallegos took her father’s advice and started as a glovebox technician. Gloveboxes are sealed compartments accessed through two holes to which gloves are attached. Technicians insert their hands into the gloves and are able to handle radioactive materials inside the sealed compartment.
“The biggest challenge I faced in my early career was that, as a woman, I had to work harder to prove myself: my abilities, my professional opinions, and my potential,” Gallegos remembers. But supervisors noticed her skills and abilities. “Once I found my confidence to speak up, I was recognized by my management and colleagues. Since then, I have not doubted myself.” Today, Gallegos is a manager in the Weapons Production associate directorate.
Gallegos’ entire career has focused on pit production, which includes dismantling old pits (the cores of nuclear weapons that contain plutonium) and recycling them into new pits. “I get to work with some of the world’s most dedicated and resilient people who come together every day in support of our nation’s security,” she says. “There is no other place in the nation that does what we do. I’m really proud of being a part of it.” ✮
Biochemistry and Technology
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, Kumkum Ganguly and her colleagues were tasked with eliminating infectious virus from contaminated personal protective equipment and studying the effects of the cleaning procedures. Ganguly’s team compared sterilization procedures that used ionizing radiation—such as high-energy x-rays and gamma rays—for successful pathogen inactivation and for radiation damage and reusability of N95 filter material.
“This crisis called for technological solutions and scientifically informed policies, and Los Alamos has an essential role to play,” Ganguly says. “The Laboratory has long been on the forefront of high-performance computing and complex-system modeling, which now provide the basis for predicting the course of the pandemic. I feel honored to be even a tiny part of it.”
Ganguly grew up in India and was headed for a career in pharmaceuticals after her postdoctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania. Instead, she joined the Lab to work on public health issues after she married a Lab scientist and moved to Los Alamos.
Ganguly, who has now been at Los Alamos for 16 years, is integrally involved in projects to design and analyze wet lab (biological or chemical specimen) experiments and develop algorithms for personalized disease prognosis. She’s also the chair of the institutional biosafety committee and part of the Lab’s Asian Pacific Islander employee resource group. “Los Alamos offers diversified research opportunities and unlimited possibilities,” she adds. “We are encouraged to think outside the box to consider all ideas for the best outcomes.” ✭
Space Instrument Realization
As an avionic technician in the U.S. Navy, Darren Harvey spent nearly eight years repairing radar and communications equipment on jets, helicopters, turboprop planes, and other naval aircraft.
Several years after leaving the military, Harvey attended a job fair at which he learned about Los Alamos National Laboratory. His background in aviation and aerospace turned out to be a great fit for a position in the Lab’s Intelligence and Space Research division, and he jumped at the chance to continue serving his country.
Harvey is part of the Space Instrument Realization group, which designs, manufactures, assembles, tests, and supports sensing systems—electronic equipment that collects data with national security, environmental, and other applications. “I never thought a little boy from rural New Mexico would have the opportunity to be working on space instruments,” he says.
Harvey, who is Diné (Navajo), says he’s found an inviting and respectful community at the Lab. He co-chairs the American Indian employee resource group, which he says helps others at the Lab learn about native people and cultures.
The group also plays an important role in attracting and retaining native people at the Laboratory. “It is critical for indigenous professionals to engage with each other and assist in any capacity regarding outreach to indigenous people as an underrepresented minority in STEM organizations,” Harvey says. “In a sense, I’m simply telling my story of how I got to where I am and providing information to indigenous people about the variety of opportunities available at Los Alamos.” ✫
National Security Research Center, Digital Collections
Nearly three years ago, Hadley Hershey became the lead archivist for the National Security Research Center (NSRC)—the classified library at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “The NSRC covers many of the topics I am passionate about: World War II history, library and archives management, digitization of historical media, and more,” Hershey says. “Our collections contain technical information related to many topics, including weapons physics and nuclear testing, and the work we do supports the physicists, chemists, engineers, material scientists, and many others at the Lab.”
From the start, Hershey found their work engaging, but, as a nonbinary person, they felt isolated at times and even excluded by colleagues. “It was only after I became more involved in Prism that I started to feel like the Lab was a place for me,” says Hershey, referencing the Lab’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group. “In that group, I found people who I identified with on a personal level, and I became involved in some of the important initiatives the group has been working on over the years, such as increasing gender-neutral bathroom access.” A founding member of the Restroom Access Committee, Hershey says, “you would be surprised by how many people are interested in either building or joining your community.” ✬
Prototype Fabrication Engineering
D’Andre Klade began working at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2020, and she believes she has found a place where she is appreciated as the “tattooed, purple haired, gamer, and all-around weirdo” she describes herself as.
Klade was born in Gallup, New Mexico, and raised about 200 miles east in Mountainair before spending much of the past decade in Oklahoma. Klade says the empowering and endearing nature of the Lab has made her return to New Mexico much smoother, and she now sees plenty of reasons why someone would want to come to Los Alamos. “Not one day has gone by where I feel uncomfortable about who I am or like I don’t belong,” Klade says. “The Lab is an amazing place to work and to grow in your career. It’s also pretty cool to say you work at Los Alamos.”
In her work as a dimensional inspector, Klade reviews designs for mechanical components. Some components are requested and made for new research and development projects. Others are parts made routinely by the Lab. Klade uses tools such as micrometers and coordinate measuring machines to conduct her reviews. Once a review is complete, the results are communicated to machinists and customers so they can resolve any issues.
The work Klade’s team does is critical to keeping the Lab on track to meet its goals. “Our mission is to deliver precision components that are essential for ensuring a safe, secure, and effective stockpile and enhance enterprise-wide production capabilities,” she says. ✩
Ed Lucero, Jr.
Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility Project Office
Ed Lucero’s father was an ironworker at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He told his son, “If you’re into welding, you should go there—they have the best welders.” Ironworkers in Los Alamos’ fabrication shops are given a unique opportunity to focus solely on welding, work with a range of metals and processes, and complete challenging projects that receive frequent inspection. And so Lucero followed his father’s advice.
Lucero started off in one of the Laboratory’s fabrication shops in 2003, where, among other duties, he helped fabricate racks that held instruments for weapons-related experiments. He also supported the repair of testing vessels used at the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test facility, which helps validate weapons performance without nuclear testing. From fabrication, he progressed into construction and then into project management.
“All of my assignments seemed to stretch me a bit,” Lucero says. “It just seemed like the opportunities were there to grow.”
Today Lucero’s work involves coordinating the many groups involved in renovating old structures or building new ones at the Laboratory. Among other projects, he has managed fire protection and hazard category upgrades at the Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building, which houses administrative facilities and laboratories used for research into plutonium and other nuclear materials.
Coordinating the Laboratory’s complex infrastructure projects can be challenging, but Lucero says that Los Alamos is replete with experts who help make these projects possible. “You’ve got to trust people, and you’ve got to work together for the best of the Lab,” he says. ✮
Space Remote Sensing and Data Science
Los Alamos, New Mexico, feels like home to Grant Meadors. “As a gay astrophysicist from the Pacific Northwest who was diagnosed with Asperger’s as a child, went to community college at a small liberal arts school, then attended a big public research university, and later lived in Ireland, Germany, and Australia, this town high in the mountains might be the first place in my life where I feel like I could put down roots,” he says.
In addition to his work in astrophysics, Meadors participates in many diversity, equity, and inclusion projects and organizations at the Laboratory. He says Los Alamos is a nurturing place that amplifies marginalized voices, and he notes that, since its founding, Los Alamos has shaped the direction of American science. “Others look to the Lab as a model. Los Alamos has spurred new algorithms into being, new methods for scientific understanding. Now more than ever, we need ethical people using science for good.”
Meadors offers the following advice to newcomers to the Lab: “Don’t discount yourself or what you’re capable of; you can reinvent yourself here in so many ways. Everything is possible, from biology to chemistry to environmental science, up toward space and beyond into the mysteries of matter. Persist, because in the middle of the desert, ideas are ever blossoming.” ✪
Deputy Directorate for Weapons
In 1990, Evelyn Mullen came to Los Alamos to work on nuclear reactor safety accident analyses. But when funding dried up two years in, she stepped out of her comfort zone to look for other opportunities. “Once I started learning more about what we do here and our impact on national security, I became very excited about the Lab’s mission,” she says. “Our multidisciplinary nature and experienced workforce allow us to solve challenging and impactful problems.”
Now, 32 years later, after working in a variety of programmatic and managerial positions across the Laboratory, Mullen encourages others to embrace change. “Maintain a questioning attitude in all aspects of your life—this is how you learn and grow,” she says. “Over the course of your career, many opportunities will emerge. Your challenge is to be prepared.”
In her current role, Mullen is second-in-command of the Lab’s Weapons programs, which help ensure the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear deterrent—much of which is maintained by Los Alamos. Mullen focuses on the individuals who support this work. “Every one of our employees makes a real difference,” she says. “If I can help someone solve a problem, share lessons learned, remove hurdles, or improve processes working with my colleagues, we can all be more effective in meeting our mission goals.” ✰
Inorganic, Isotope, and Actinide Chemistry
Kenneth Nadeau began his career as a boots-on-the-ground member of the United States Marine Corps. “I am a third-generation military veteran,” he says. “My grandfather’s and uncle’s lives were spared due to the atomic weapons [developed by Los Alamos] putting an end to World War II.” Thus, for Nadeau, the missions of the military and the Laboratory have always been intertwined.
Nadeau has worked at Los Alamos for nearly 20 years. His career has included oversight of the Compliance and Metrology program, which provides a range of calibration services for measuring, inspecting, and testing equipment used in support of Los Alamos missions.
Nadeau currently serves as a quality assurance and control official for medical radioisotopes, which play a vital role in cancer treatments and materials research. “Many believe that national security is focused solely on defense programs, but it also applies to the added dimensions of physical, infrastructure, computer, political, and economic security,” he says.
Nadeau has put down deep roots in the greater Los Alamos community. He has coached soccer and wrestling and was a member of the volunteer fire department, among other roles. He has served on national committees of the American Legion, and he hosted two of the three American Legion national commanders who have visited the Laboratory. ✯
Technical project manager
Space Instrument Realization
If it’s a Los Alamos project headed for space, Susan Nava likely has overseen some aspect of the project.
As a technical project manager, Nava locates difficult-to-find materials, maintains schedules, and coordinates teams as they build satellite instruments that can detect nuclear explosions from orbit. This job, Nava says, “helps keep our nation and my family safe, and that is important to me. I feel good that I can contribute to such important work.”
Nava came to the Lab in 2000, shortly after serving six years in the Air National Guard. In the 22 years she’s been here, she’s found the Lab a welcoming place to work. “Not only are there outreach programs to help people assimilate and find networks of like-minded people, but most people here are very accepting,” she says. “I have the privilege of working with some of the most intelligent, kind, joyous, fun, and generous people I have ever met.”
To anyone interested in joining the Laboratory, Nava says come on up to Los Alamos, which is perched on the Pajarito Plateau about 7,300 feet above sea level. “The air is fine—thin but fine. You can be part of developing new, leading-edge technology and keeping our nation safe.” ✫
Verification and Analysis
Rosalyn Rael first came to Los Alamos National Laboratory as an undergraduate student intern from Western New Mexico University, which is in her hometown of Silver City. “I was able to work with an excellent mentor and math professor from my university who collaborated with Lab staff during the summer,” Rael says.
Rael returned to the Laboratory for several summers as a graduate student at the University of Arizona. After earning her Ph.D. and completing a round of postdoctoral positions, she joined Los Alamos for the long term in 2018.
“I spend most days in front of a computer or meeting with colleagues,” Rael says. “My work involves validating and assessing uncertainties in models implemented in multiphysics simulation codes, which includes programming, data analysis, and writing.”
Rael notes that Los Alamos’ scenic location, the chance to work in her home state, and the opportunity to make use of unique computational resources and scientific capabilities are among the reasons she chooses to remain at the Laboratory.
“Doing work that helps support national security and global security is highly motivating,” Rael says. “Working at Los Alamos can open the door to career opportunities, and if you come to work here, aim to develop a network of mentors and colleagues who will support your scientific, career, and personal goals.” ✬
Material Physics and Applications
What’s the best part of Tommy Rockward’s job?
“I get to perform exciting research as a lead scientist and also as a part of a team,” says Rockward, who has worked at the Lab for 22 years. “In addition, I take pleasure in mentoring our next-generation workforce, and I get to witness, first-hand, the excitement on their faces when research goes right.”
Rockward works on national security problems, mostly through advancing hydrogen fuel-cell technology that will contribute to the nation’s energy security for generations. His work already has led to new international standards on hydrogen fuel quality.
Rockward also is co-chair of Securing Opportunities for the Underrepresented at LANL (SOUL), an employee resource group. As part of SOUL, Rockward has mentored approximately 100 interns and recruited more than 200 students to Los Alamos.
“The continued success of the Lab will partly depend on having a diverse talent pool of attractive candidates,” says Rockward, adding that he would encourage young scientists interested in Los Alamos “to have the confidence to bring forth their novel ideas and strategies.” Never forget, he says, that you are an integral part of the team. ✰
Research and development engineer
Weapons Product Definition
A New Mexico native, Cayman Rogers had recently graduated college and was teaching high school algebra when she got a call from a manager at Los Alamos who’d seen her resume. “Honestly, I thought it was a prank call,” she remembers. “Los Alamos felt to me like the Super Bowl probably feels to football players: beautiful but most likely unreachable.”
The dream of working at the Laboratory became a reality when Rogers was offered a job one month later. At Los Alamos, she brings her skills to bear in modeling weapons parts and assemblies using computer-aided design software. She is also working toward a master’s degree in structural engineering offered through the Laboratory by the University of California, San Diego.
So far, the Laboratory has lived up to expectations. “My boss is kind, my coworkers are fun to be around, my job is stimulating but not stressful, and the location is beautiful,” Rogers says.
Asked what advice she would offer other young people who are interested in working at Los Alamos, Rogers advises loading up on summer internships, maintaining a high GPA, keeping records of extracurricular achievements, and attending as many academic conferences as possible. “School is stressful, but it’s totally worth the effort when you can get a job that rewards you for your hard work,” she says. ✯
Research and development engineer
Safeguards, Science, and Technology
Athena Sagadevan grew up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, where few women leave home to study abroad. However, “I had a strong interest in science and math, coupled with my parents’ push to study something that could give back to society,” she remembers. “Nuclear energy had lots of potential, and I believed that I could contribute to the growing energy crisis.” With that motivation, she traveled to the United States, where she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and then a doctorate from Texas A&M University. In doing so, she became the world’s first Malaysian woman of South Indian descent to complete a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering.
Sagadevan’s doctoral advisor encouraged her to pursue an internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which turned her passion into a career. Today, Sagadevan researches safeguards for nuclear microreactors that will be deployed to remote locations and military bases for reliable heat and power. Safeguards are measures to verify that nuclear materials (such as those in reactors) are not diverted from peaceful purposes.
“It can be challenging to find your place within this massive organization,” Sagadevan says of Los Alamos. “But there is something for everyone.” In her role as a co-leader of the Atomic Women employee resource group, she encourages her colleagues to “explore, collaborate, and realize your full potential by utilizing the world-class facilities and resources provided at the Lab to conduct cutting-edge research.” ✪
Weapon Systems Surveillance
When she’s not competing in triathlons, Lani Seaman works in Los Alamos National Laboratory’s weapons systems surveillance program, which is responsible for technical and programmatic oversight of certain nuclear weapons systems. With her background in actinide chemistry, the Lab was a natural fit for her skill set. “I can’t do what I do at the Laboratory anywhere else.”
After nearly 10 years at the Lab, Seaman remains enthusiastic about her work. “I take a great deal of pride in the work I do,” she says. “Even though I am just one piece of the puzzle, I know the work I do makes a difference.” She also says her time at the Lab has taught her to be flexible. “Be willing to do something different and out of your comfort zone,” she advises new employees.
Seaman, who has bipolar II disorder, serves on the board of the DiverseAbility employee resource group. “While at times I’ve struggled to deal with my disability at work, I have found many of my colleagues are more than welcoming of me—disability and all,” she says. “I’ve been glad to see the progress the Lab has made toward the inclusion of employees with disabilities.”
Seaman also notes that Los Alamos offers many opportunities. “Because our Laboratory is big, if you are unhappy or feeling out of place, consider looking into doing something different. There are plenty of opportunities to make a career change.” ✫
Integrated Design and Assessment
After completing a Ph.D. in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Arizona, Rachel Smullen became a postdoctoral fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was isolating to not get to know anyone except through a camera on Webex,” she says. But thanks to “an amazing—and growing—group of mentors, peers, and managers,” she started to feel more at home.
“Find your people,” she continues. “These people provide me support when I’m feeling demoralized, encouragement when I have a crazy idea, advice when I accidentally demonstrate how new I am to this whole thing, and just a general sense of belonging.”
When it comes to recognizing and supporting diversity, Smullen says Los Alamos still has some work to do, but “there are amazing pockets of inclusivity and advocates all over. The trajectory is positive. Visibility is such an important part of showing people that they can belong here.”
In December 2021, Smullen was hired as a staff scientist in the Lab’s Integrated Design and Assessment group, which focuses on understanding the physics behind nuclear weapon design, performance, and reliability. “My work is important to the nation and the world,” she says. “It matters, and I am proud to be a small part of our mission.” ✬
Research and development engineer
Product Engineering and Product Support
Anand Somasekharan came to New Mexico from Boston, Massachusetts. Drawn by the Lab’s mission, he and his wife decided to make Los Alamos their home. “I believe the work we do here is critical to the deterrence strategies that are integral to our national security,” he says.
At the Laboratory, Somasekharan is the lead product engineer in the pit manufacturing program—the Lab’s effort to produce plutonium pits (nuclear weapon cores). Somasekharan supports the development, and ultimately the production, of these important weapons parts by translating product requirements to the manufacturing floor.
“The Lab will not disappoint you if you are looking for a meaningful technical challenge, and the opportunity to work with smart and skilled individuals,” he says. “There are very few workplaces on this planet, let alone this country, where you get to do the cutting-edge and important work that is conducted daily at the Lab.”
Somasekharan notes that although the Lab is making a conscious effort to improve diversity, “we still have challenges to overcome to truly be an inclusive workforce.” He encourages coworkers to respect one another’s knowledge and viewpoints and says Los Alamos must strive to alleviate disparities in technical education. ✭
Kasidit (Boon) Subsomboon
Space Instrument Realization
Los Angeles native Kasidit Subsomboon had always lived in big cities before moving to Los Alamos, New Mexico (population 13,000). As a field artillery officer in the U.S. Army, he was stationed in Seattle, Columbus, and Seoul. Later, he opened a Thai restaurant in Bangkok. He learned about Los Alamos National Laboratory at a military job fair in 2016 and didn’t mince words when describing his new hometown. “The initial thought you might have is that this is a boring town,” Subsomboon says. “ I can assure you, it’s very boring.” However, Los Alamos suits Subsomboon, who says the little mountain town has a calmness to it that, along with his job, makes it “worthwhile to the point that I feel like I can retire from the Lab.”
For more than six years, Subsomboon has worked as an engineer, building satellites and instruments for the space nuclear detonation detection program. “The Lab is awesome,” he says. “I feel like I can contribute to national security.”
Subsomboon says he is mission-driven, and he views the Lab’s objectives of nuclear deterrence as being important on a personal level. He likens it to having police patrolling a community. “If anything happens, we can see and react in a timely manner,” Subsomboon says. “We have multiple capabilities to detect nuclear activities both in space and around the world and we can then react quickly, both defensively and offensively, if necessary.”
Subsomboon worked with diverse colleagues in the military, but at Los Alamos, he has met more people with an even wider range of backgrounds, ethnicities, abilities, and sexual orientations than when he served. For those just arriving at the Lab or thinking of joining, Subsomboon says, “There are several communities and activities you can seek, and most of all, there are people here who are willing to accept you.” ✭
Alternate information system security officer
Engineering and Security Services
Growing up in northern New Mexico—specifically in Nambe Owingeh (Tewa meaning “rounded Earth village”) and Ohkay Owingeh (Tewa meaning “place of the strong people”)—Agoyo Talachy-Duran knew Los Alamos National Laboratory offered interesting, important careers. After interning at the Lab in high school and college, she was hired full time.
Today, Talachy-Duran is an alternate information systems security officer, performing cyber analysis and ensuring wireless technology systems across the Laboratory’s campus comply with security laws and regulations. “The Lab’s mission is important to me because the nature of the work, research, and development is instrumental in the safety and security of our nation and our future generations,” she says.
Outside of work, Talachy-Duran has future generations in mind as she weaves and embroiders kilts. Weaving is a craft she learned from her mother, who learned the skills from a long line of Pueblo embroiderers before her. “These pieces will be used and kept in our family and handed down to my grandsons,” she explains. “The most satisfying part of embroidery is to stand back and look at my work in amazement. That I was able to complete a piece like this—I didn’t know I had it in me.” ✪
Safety and Surety
As a graduate student, Guillermo Terrones was invited to Los Alamos Days, a workshop at the University of Arizona that a number of researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory attended. Interacting with these scientists and engineers piqued Terrones’ interest in working at the Laboratory.
Since taking a job at Los Alamos in 2002, Terrones has been part of the Theoretical Design division’s Safety and Surety group, where he helps ensure the safety of the United States’ nuclear weapons. “In general, this activity requires the combined analysis of experimental data and the results of numerical simulations using several Los Alamos–developed computational tools run in our high-performance computing systems,” he explains.
Terrones’ work contributes to the safety, reliability, and effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear deterrent without full-scale nuclear testing. Results from studies conducted by the Safety and Surety group have informed weapons assessments given by Los Alamos directors to the president of the United States.
Terrones recently served as the physics lead on a preliminary assessment of a potential new warhead—the W93. This assessment, called a Phase 1 study, was the first such assessment completed at Los Alamos in more than three decades. For Terrones, such responsibility—plus the chance to work with colleagues across the Laboratory—has made for a rewarding career. “Los Alamos has been a great place for me,” he says. “It takes some time to find a place that is right for you, but it is an effort worth making to have a long and satisfying career.” ✰
National High Magnetic Field Lab
When Hazuki Teshima arrived in Los Alamos from Japan, she could not read, write, or speak English very well. But she was determined to get a job at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where her husband was newly employed. She enrolled at the University of New Mexico, Los Alamos, and began to learn English. She was determined to get an education that could lay the foundation for a career at the Lab.
In 2009, Teshima got her start as a post-baccalaureate student in the Bioscience division, where she researched genomes. Today, she is a generator operator at the Lab’s National High Magnetic Field Laboratory-Pulsed Field Facility, which draws international users who need the highest possible magnetic field intensity for fundamental and national security science. At the MagLab, as it’s called, Teshima is in charge of monitoring infrastructure and environmental conditions. She ensures that the facility’s massive 1.4-megawatt motorgenerator system performs seamlessly when commanded. “Our magnet pulse test methods are unique, and the generator is operated in a very particular way,” she says. “Knowing the right operation method and maintenance for this unusual system is challenging.”
Through her work, Teshima has discovered a new version of herself. “My strength is that I don’t hesitate to ask questions,” she says. “I want to be learning all the time.” She says her like-minded and creative colleagues make Los Alamos an engaging place to work. “In this Lab, there are workers with novel ideas, unique viewpoints, special knowledge, and good skills,” she explains. “This is a unique place, open to all types of people and backgrounds.” ✯
Space Science and Applications
In 2006, Shawn Tornga arrived at Los Alamos fresh out of college with a passion for physics. By 2013, while working full-time in the Lab’s space-based nuclear detonation detection program, she earned a doctorate in nuclear engineering. But her biggest professional challenge—or so she thought—was still to come: transitioning from male to female.
However, “nothing I was afraid of happened—it was a smooth process,” she says of transitioning while working at Los Alamos. “I think that people at the Lab focus more on capability than identity.”
When it comes to being capable, Tornga encourages early career scientists to put in the work, focus on their passions, and trust their colleagues. “You have more support than you know,” she says. “Make connections, and don’t be afraid to advertise your abilities.”
Now a program manager in the Lab’s Global Security associate directorate, Tornga’s work directly supports the Lab’s mission to advance nuclear detonation detection and intelligence capabilities, and she credits the Lab’s unique nuclear focus for making it one of the only places in the world where she can do this type of work—and be surrounded by a diverse workforce. “Diversity is amazing at the Lab, and that’s part of what makes working here great,” Tornga says. “We have staff from all over the world with different specialties, experiences, cultures, and identities.” ✰
Stockpile and Enterprise Analytics Office
In 1980, following the collapse of the South Vietnamese government, 17-year-old Tri Tran fled his native Vietnam by boat. “I arrived alone in the United States from a refugee camp in Malaysia,” he remembers. He settled in San Diego with his extended family, learned English, and began working his way through school, eventually earning a doctorate in chemical engineering, and starting a postdoctoral position at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
“My Ph.D. work was in fuel-cell reactors, and I thought I would teach at a university after a couple years at Livermore,” Tran says. “I could not have imagined a career path in the nuclear weapons business.”
But that’s exactly what happened. Tran stayed at Livermore for 22 years, including a three-year assignment at the National Nuclear Security Administration. In 2016, he came to Los Alamos, where he currently directs the Stockpile and Enterprise Analytics Office. “My office leads modeling activities and studies to evaluate nuclear weapons stockpile modernization plans and their integration with capabilities at the Laboratory and within the nuclear security enterprise,” he explains. “Analytics enable leadership to understand current affairs, anticipate future changes, and explore solutions.”
“I am humbled by the trust and the responsibility to contribute and to transfer my knowledge to the next generation of weapons workers,” he continues. “It’s truly a privilege to be a part of this Laboratory.” ✪
Pit Technologies Assembly
Ashley Trujillo came to Los Alamos National Laboratory more than 21 years ago, following in the footsteps of her aunt, who was the first college graduate and Lab employee in the family. “My aunt is my role model and primary reason for joining Los Alamos,” she says. Once she was here, Trujillo quickly realized that because Los Alamos “has so much to offer in so many different fields, there are people here of all different ethnicities and backgrounds.”
Trujillo works in the Lab’s Plutonium Facility, where she helps build plutonium pits—the cores of nuclear weapons. As the floor lead of assembly operations, she also oversees her team’s training and qualifications, manages schedules and resources, and mentors other technicians. “I am privileged to pass on the knowledge to our new and up-and-coming assembly technicians,” she says. “The Lab’s mission is important to me because I am confident that what I am doing may one day play a vital role in keeping our nation safe.”
In August 2022, Trujillo was recognized for her commitment to this mission by Lieutenant General Thomas Bussiere, deputy commander of United States Strategic Command. Bussiere, who was visiting Los Alamos, presented her with a STRATCOM deputy commander challenge coin for exceptional service. “Don’t drop it, or it’s very expensive,” Bussiere joked. “You have to buy a drink for everyone in the room.” Elaine Gallegos and Anand Somasekharan (both profiled above) also received challenge coins. ✯
Jolante van Wijk
Computational Earth Science
In December 2002, Jolante van Wijk traveled from her native Netherlands to the southwestern United States—more than 5,000 miles—for a scientific career path that included a postdoctoral position at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Twelve years later, after teaching stints at the University of Houston and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, van Wijk returned to Los Alamos to lead Computational Earth Sciences, which she describes as “a dynamic group with expertise in topics related to energy, global security, wildfire, and climate change.” The group members, mostly Earth scientists, work side by side with physicists, engineers, mathematicians, and others, to tackle challenging problems.
For van Wijk, the work is personal. “Growing up in Europe, the impact of World War II was often addressed in my family, at school, and in public,” she explains. “These discussions included the roles played by the United States and Los Alamos. Today, global security and energy security are, unfortunately, very urgent again. Los Alamos is part of the efforts toward resolving or de-escalating these problems, and this has my full support.”
Career development opportunities, great colleagues, a pleasant work environment, and a short commute also have van Wijk’s full support. “I have only been at Los Alamos for a short time,” she says, “and I am looking forward to a long future here.” ✯
Process Maintenance and Decontamination Services
In 1994, Wendy Warde moved from California to New Mexico for her husband’s work. At the time, Warde was one year into a five-year apprenticeship with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Because of the move, Warde had to repeat the first year of the apprenticeship, during which she was assigned to work at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Twenty-eight years later, Warde is still at Los Alamos, where she specializes in resistive heating, which is the production of heat by an electrical current. The applications of this work are broad, varied, and sometimes even out of this world—Warde was recently involved in designing and building the furnace controllers that help produce fuel for the Mars Perseverance rover. “I love and enjoy the people I work with, and I enjoy the actual work,” Warde says. “For me, the Lab’s mission is vital, and I am honored to be part of continuing to meet that mission.”
Throughout her time at the Lab, Warde has been immersed in what she describes as an always improving “inclusive and diverse workplace where people’s perspectives are shaped by your ability to push the envelope to solve problems.” Those problems are diverse and not just for Ph.D. scientists, Warde explains, noting the importance of the Lab’s skilled and craft workers. “The variety of endeavors the Lab is involved in is staggering,” she continues. “If you don’t know exactly what you want to focus on, this is a fabulous place to dip your toe in the work waters and find out what it is you have a passion for.” ✪
Military and Stockpile Operations Office
James Woerner first visited Los Alamos National Laboratory as a master sergeant nuclear weapons specialist in the Air Force. “While here I fell in love with the mission and the location,” he remembers. When it was time to retire from the military, he returned to Los Alamos, where he could continue his service to the country alongside many other veterans. “There is plenty of support for veterans here at the Lab, and there are plenty of veterans from all branches, so it’s easy to find help if needed,” he says. “Being a veteran at the Lab is a good fit for me.”
At Los Alamos, Woerner develops and coordinates the Lab’s response to updates on technical manuals used for maintaining nuclear weapons while in military custody. This work provides the military with guidance and information to maintain safe, secure, and effective nuclear weapons. Woerner often draws on his Air Force experience to explain or expand on how the military operates. He also works closely with the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Defense. “The different people I get to interact with really keep the job interesting,” he says.
“I truly enjoy the work I do at the Lab,” he continues. “Every day there is the opportunity to learn new things, talk to interesting people, and make decisions that bolster our national security.” ✰
H. Omar Wooten
Theoretical Design, Primary Physics
After working at Los Alamos as a student and an early career scientist, Omar Wooten pivoted to a career in academic medicine. “But after spending years in windowless basements of radiation oncology clinics, I knew it was time for a change,” he remembers. “At one point, my wife told me, ‘The happiest you’ve ever been was when you were at Los Alamos.’ The very next day, I started looking for opportunities to return to the Lab.”
Today, Wooten designs and analyzes the results of small-scale and integrated experiments to help predict how nuclear weapons perform. The data from these experiments are fed into sophisticated computer models that can simulate weapons performance. “The experiments I help design and the simulations I run help us understand where improvements are needed and what data will help us improve our predictions,” he explains.
This type of work can span years or even decades, which frustrated Wooten as a young scientist but not anymore. “I now appreciate that the Lab has so many opportunities to work on long-term problems that make big impacts to our nation’s security,” he says. “But even better, at the end of each day as I walk out of my building, I’m greeted with the most beautiful views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains—sometimes snow-capped, other times topped with storm clouds. The views and clean air here are like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.” ✫