2023 Early and Mid-Career Recognition (EMCR) Program

The Early and Mid-Career Recognition (EMCR) Program recognizes scientific and technical accomplishments, leadership and future promise demonstrated by LLNL scientists and engineers early in their careers — from four to 16 years since they received their most recent degree. Winners receive a cash award and institutional funding (approximately equivalent to 20% support for one year) to pursue research activities in their area of interest. This year’s cohort will be recognized during a ceremony in late September.

4–10 Year Cohort

Brett Friedman

Friedman was initially attracted to LLNL after spending a summer as a visiting graduate student in the magnetic fusion energy group. “I grew fond of the environment which included so many field-leading scientists who were able to spend most of their time on research,” Friedman said. After receiving his Ph.D. from UCLA in plasma physics, Friedman currently serves as secondary physics design lead for the W87-1, assembling a body of evidence to support warhead certification.

“I’m extremely honored to receive this award,” he said. “I hope my colleagues and mentors can feel proud about their roles in my development that led to this. I’m particularly pleased that people like me who only do classified research can be recognized like this for our accomplishments. We sacrifice external recognition and engagement with the broad scientific community to do work that we believe benefits our country.”

With the funding from this award, Friedman hopes to focus on teaching the next generation of designers. He plans to write tutorials to address the lack of modern classified resources for new designers.

Elaine Lee

Born and raised in New York City and the first in her family to attend college, Lee received her Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. As group leader for the Responsive and Active Materials and Manufacturing Group in the Materials Engineering Division, Lee leads several multidisciplinary collaborative R&D projects focused on stimuli-responsive materials and additive manufacturing for program-relevant applications. She credits the supportive and innovative culture of the Center for Engineered Materials and Manufacturing for enabling her to grow new areas of research alongside her colleagues.

Upon learning of the award, Lee noted: “This recognition is an affirmation of all the incredible work that my teams and I have accomplished. It is an honor to be named among the distinguished recipients of this award. This recognition will increase the visibility of my work as well as that of the Center for Engineered Materials and Manufacturing, opening new opportunities to collaborate and to apply our advanced manufacturing capabilities towards new research directions.”

Lee hopes to continue growing her research in the design and fabrication of high-performance materials, particularly using advanced manufacturing of multi-material systems to enable responsive, programmable and sentient materials.

Paul Nyholm

Nyholm is LLNL’s Independent Diagnostic Scoring System (LIDSS) integration lead and flight test group leader in the Defense Technologies Engineering Division. As a grad student at Brigham Young University working on unmanned aircraft, Nyholm was intrigued by the multidisciplinary problems associated with the LIDSS hardware at LLNL. After earning his master's degree in mechanical engineering, Nyholm joined an LLNL team in assessing terminal conditions of development hypersonic weapons programs, key to the nation’s defense strategy.

“My job requires our team to travel to remote parts of the world for extended periods of time to do resource limited problem solving,” Nyholm said. “I’ve really enjoyed the camaraderie I’ve built with my teammates as we work together to overcome many challenges to collecting the data we need.”

Nyholm notes: “The EMCR recognition means a lot to me because it means that the institution recognizes the impact and challenges associated with collecting terminal event data on flight tests. Many of the challenges faced in this work are probably atypical of scientific and engineering challenges at LLNL, and so it is encouraging to me and my team that this work is valued and recognized.”

In considering what would most benefit his research moving forward, Nyholm observed: “Our team’s shortest commodity is time. We react to new requirements at a pace that doesn’t always afford us the time to spend on refining or documenting our products. With more time, we could make our systems ‘turnkey’ which would in turn support more weapons testing and provide an even bigger impact to national security.”

Simon Pang

Pang joined LLNL in 2018 after a postdoctoral fellowship at the Georgia Institute of Technology and holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder. Today, he serves as the deputy group leader in the Materials for Energy and Climate Security group in the Materials Science Division and the Direct Air Capture Pillar lead in LLNL’s Carbon Initiative. He explains: “LLNL is an amazing place to do carbon management research. It’s pretty unique to have experts in both the fundamental chemistry/physics of materials/devices and also in the large-scale analysis of national and global implications. I get to work with incredible colleagues every day that are executing amazing science that I can only dream of.”

Upon learning of his selection to the 2023 EMCR cohort, Pang noted: “I am incredibly humbled by this award and credit the amazing students, postdocs and staff that I work with. I like to think that we all act as force multipliers on each other and that we are all better off because we work together – the team is truly greater than the sum of the individual parts. What is amazing about the EMCR program is that everybody has a grand vision for 'what could be' in their field; I find this incredibly inspiring.”

Pang hopes to use the award funding to explore new concepts in “place-based design of materials” for direct air carbon dioxide capture. He notes: “Climate change is the existential global challenge of our generation. I feel that we have an incredible responsibility to humanity and the planet to find solutions that address the problem while allowing us to maintain our high standard of living in a sustainable way.”

Dan Park

Serving as group leader and staff scientist in the Systems and Synthetic Biology Group in the Biosciences and Biotechnology Division, Park joined LLNL as a postdoc in 2013 after receiving a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In considering his future career, Park valued the opportunity at LLNL to conduct exciting, mission-focused research in a team environment. His research is focused on engineering proteins and microbial pathways for applications of strategic importance, including recovery of clean energy critical metals, safe and stable use of genetically engineered microorganisms in the environment and bioremediation.

“It’s a great honor to receive the award,” Park said. “I owe a debt of gratitude to the many colleagues at LLNL and in academia who have been essential to my work at LLNL.”

Park plans to use the EMCR award funding to develop new research directions and expand industrial engagement efforts. He also would value additional laboratory space to support his actively growing group and the increasing technology readiness level of his research.

Roger Pearce

Two summer internships and a Livermore Graduate Scholar Program (LGSP) appointment provided an early introduction to LLNL for Pearce. After receiving his Ph.D. in computer science from Texas A&M University, Pearce joined the Center for Applied Scientific Computing (CASC) research staff in 2013. His research explores HPC-scale data analytics with a heavy focus on network science, the study of the relationships of interconnected data. Pearce valued the ability to perform cutting-edge research with large multidisciplinary teams at LLNL.

Pearce noted that the EMCR award “is a great honor, and I’m very appreciative of all the career support LLNL has given me.The funding allows for that much needed ‘free energy’ to try out some speculative ideas.I work best on team projects, and the research environment at LLNL — especially the CASC family — is highly collaborative.”

Pearce plans to use the EMCR award funding to investigate new data structure ideas geared towards asynchronous distributed computing for HPC, noting that the core mission challenges within the Global Security mission space keep him motivated. Having recently joined the faculty at Texas A&M as an adjunct associate professor of practice in the computer science and engineering department, he hopes to inspire more national security-minded undergraduates to pursue advanced training in computer science.

Chris Young

While obtaining his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Stanford University, Young studied satellite electric propulsion and laser diagnostics of low temperature plasmas. At LLNL, he jumped to the complete opposite end of the spectrum and began researching fusion plasmas that are among the hottest, densest materials ever created in the laboratory.

Today, Young serves as a design physicist supporting the high yield inertial confinement fusion (ICF) campaigns on NIF. When asked about his favorite part of working at the Lab, he answered: “I’m a part of the team designing record-setting fusion experiments on the world’s largest, most energetic laser using some of the nation’s fastest supercomputers. This is not a normal job! And having a music room and sand volleyball court on site is pretty cool too.”

Upon learning of his EMCR selection, Young noted: “It is an incredible honor to be recognized with this award, and a testament to the whole ICF team that the Lab values the work we do. I join a long list of colleagues and mentors who have been recognized in previous award cycles and it’s a privilege to stand among them.”

He plans to leverage the award funding to revisit some of the semi-analytic models used routinely for ICF design with an eye towards improving their predictions.


11–16 Year Cohort

Robert Casperson

After earning his Ph.D. in physics from Yale University in 2010, Casperson now serves LLNL as a deputy group leader of the Nuclear Physics and Accelerator Technologies group in the Physical and Life Sciences (PLS) directorate and a primary physicist on the W87-1 Mod Program. He’s maintained a focus on strengthening the connection between PLS and Strategic Deterrence (SD), through contributions to L1 and L2 milestones and identifying physics priorities of interest to Weapons Physics and Design. He continues to develop uncertainty quantification methods that are compatible with the complexity of nuclear data. Most recently he has been leading the Icarus project, which is a science-based effort to define defect requirements for W87-1 pit production, and he also served as the defect topic lead for an FY23 SCDS Pegpost.

“I am honored to receive this award” Casperson said, “and am grateful to mentors and team members in PLS and SD for helping me navigate this path through both directorates. Research at LLNL has unique and interesting challenges that draw on many different scientific fields, and it has been exciting to contribute to these complex and important topics.”

He plans to use the EMCR award funding to explore the more general implications of physics sensitivities that emerged from his defect efforts.

Helgi Ingólfsson

Ingolfsson is a staff scientist in the Biochemical and Biophysical Systems Group in the Biosciences and Biotechnology Division. He received his Ph.D. in computational biology and medicine from Weill Cornell Medical College and prior to joining LLNL, worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. His research is focused on protein-membrane interactions and how the membrane environment can perturb protein function. At LLNL, Ingolfsson leads a team of researchers in the development and use of the massively parallel multiscale machine-learned modeling infrastructure (MuMMI).

Ingolfsson stated: “I am truly honored by this recognition, it means a lot to me, especially among such esteemed colleagues that we are lucky to have here at LLNL. I am also extremely thankful for all the hard work of my colleagues and collaborators, who in my opinion all share in this recognition.”

With the time provided by this award, Ingolfsson wants to explore how to best use simulations to detect membrane mediated adverse drug effects, which could enable safer drugs and faster drug development.

Ana Kupresanin

After receiving her Ph.D. in mathematical statistics from Arizona State University, Kupresanin’s technical work at LLNL has been focused on collaborating with scientists and engineers to analyze data and to develop/craft statistical methods for uncertainty quantification problems in stockpile stewardship. “Coming from academia, Livermore was an ideal playground for a statistician because you get to learn about different scientific disciplines by looking at data and talking to experts in their fields,” Kupresanin said.

When asked about the significance of the EMCR award, Kupresanin noted: “I see this award not just as a personal honor but as an acknowledgment of the work done by other LLNL statisticians and as a recognition of the statistics discipline and its importance to the LLNL missions.”

While Kupresanin will be leaving LLNL in October to take a leadership role at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, she greatly enjoyed her time at LLNL and will always be grateful for the technical and leadership opportunities. She hopes to continue strengthening the collaboration between the two laboratories, especially in areas of data science and machine learning/artificial intelligence.

Cosmin Petra

After obtaining a Ph.D. in applied mathematics from the University of Maryland in 2009 and working at Argonne National Laboratory, Petra serves LLNL as a computer scientist and computational mathematician in the Center for Applied Scientific Computing (CASC). His research focuses on algorithms and high-performance computing solvers for large-scale mathematical optimization with an emphasis on the optimization and planning of complex energy systems as well as contact mechanics optimization.

Upon learning of his selection to the 2023 EMCR cohort, Petra noted: “I am truly honored by the award and grateful to many people for the support shown since I joined the Lab. I am also thankful to my collaborators for the hard work and for not giving up easily — it takes years (and a village) to tackle scientific/engineering problems successfully.”

Petra plans to apply the EMCR funding to new mission-relevant topics of interest, such as optimal design and quantum computing. He is looking forward to new collaborations and stable, long-term funding to work on new challenging problems.

Yunyan Zhang

Zhang has always been fascinated by cloud life cycles, from her Ph.D. studies in atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, to her current role as group leader of Climate Analysis in the Atmospheric, Earth and Energy Division (AEED) of PLS. As a cloud physicist, she seeks to understand the mechanisms controlling cloud-related processes so they can be properly represented in earth system models for global climate predictions. Zhang also serves as the principal investigator for “Tying in High Resolution E3SM with ARM Data (THREAD),” recently funded as a Science Focus Area (SFA) project by the DOE Atmospheric System Research program.

“I am deeply honored and thrilled to receive the EMCR award,” Zhang said. “I want to take this opportunity to thank my long-term mentors and colleagues in LLNL’s climate program and AEED. I started working at Livermore Lab as a postdoc right after I graduated from UCLA. This has been the greatest place to work and grow, especially the highly collaborative working environment in the climate program.”

Zhang hopes to use the EMCR funding to support her research interests on observational analysis related to the interactive processes between land surface, atmospheric boundary layers and clouds.