When MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) graduate students Hans Rinderknecht and Alex Zylstra applied for a prestigious Lawrence Postdoctoral Fellowship, they knew they were competing with each other, and over 200 other outstanding applicants. Because Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) awards only two to four fellowships per year, the chances of winning were slim; the chances of both winning seemed almost impossible. But the student colleagues, members of the MIT Physics Department who both work in the PSFC’s High-Energy-Density (HEDP) division, were thrilled to learn they had each received the award. The three-year fellowship, named after Ernest Orlando Lawrence, who received the Nobel Prize in 1939 for inventing the cyclotron, is given to candidates who have exceptional talent, scientific track records, and potential for significant achievements. The Lawrence fellowship is given out to a wide range of disciplines in the physical and biological sciences.
HEDP division head Richard Petrasso notes, “To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time two students from MIT have concurrently been selected for this fellowship. I confess that it took my breath away when I learned that both Hans and Alex were awardees. So difficult for one, almost unheard of for two!” Adds PSFC director Dennis Whyte, “These awards to Hans and Alex are a testament to the outstanding science education efforts at the multi-departmental PSFC, and to the combined excellence of the HEDP research staff and students, who are producing impactful results on the national stage.”
For the last six years, both Rinderknecht and Zylstra have worked side-by-side on inertial confinement fusion and high-energy-density-physics diagnostics. They implemented their diagnostics at the Omega Laser Facility (at the University of Rochester in New York) and the National Ignition Facility at LLNL in Livermore, California, deriving their principal data and results from these two major experimental facilities.
Important progress on the road to fusion ignition has been achieved in the last 12 months, and Rinderknecht and Zylstra have played important roles in that success. Like other MIT students who do research with the PSFC’s HEDP division, both have been involved in these experiments since the ignition campaign began six years ago.
Since learning of their success, Keith LeChien, director of the Office of Inertial Confinement Fusion at the National Nuclear Security Administration, has invited them to give talks on their research in Washington, D.C.
Both students will have to make the choice between the Lawrence Award and other prestigious fellowships they have been offered. Alex Zylstra has also received a Los Alamos National Laboratory Fredrick Reines Postdoctoral Fellowship. Hans Rinderknecht has received the Harry S.Truman Fellowship in National Security Science and Engineering from Sandia National Laboratory.