Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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A monthly profile series featuring a Lab employee who exemplifies one of 9 traits identified in the Laboratory’s Purpose Statement

Lab Character: Who We Are

Rusty Gray

Rusty Gray

High-impact, hands-on materials scientist

George (Rusty) Thompson Gray III is a tactile person. As a Los Alamos materials scientist, he uses high-powered gas guns to subject materials to dynamic forces, examining the resulting damage patterns to understand why materials fail.

Outside of work, he uses his hands to modify materials—creating elaborate stained glass and woven baskets, and tending the hives of thousands of bees.

For more than 30 years, Gray has made essential contributions to the Laboratory’s national security science mission. He’s made a name for himself within the materials science community.

Most recently, he was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering. He is the only current Lab employee in the organization.

“I sometimes wonder what my life would’ve been like in academia. But I wanted to defend the country and contribute to national security as well as publish papers and do research,” said Gray, a team leader in Materials Science in Radiation and Dynamics Extremes (MST-8). “I like science, engineering and being able to lead science that helps the Lab.”

Rusty Gray

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Although he joined Los Alamos in 1985 to perform a combination of fundamental and applied materials research, Gray privately intended to become a university professor. Instead, he fell in love with the arid New Mexican mountains, he said, and the flexibility of the Lab.

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His assorted roles include leading critical science projects for Stockpile Stewardship efforts and publishing advances in materials science. Gray advises institutions on materials dynamics in defense and manufacturing areas, acting as a liaison between the Laboratory and outside institutions. He is a fellow of Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as the American Physical Society; ASM International; and the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society (TMS).

From rock hound to metallurgical engineer

Gray’s passion for materials led him to choose the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, in part because of the school’s geology department and its proximity to the Black Hills. There, he explored long-abandoned Gold Rush mines with his fellow rock hounds, finding rotting beams and collapsed tunnels about as often as he unearthed rare rocks and minerals. In his office, Gray has a portion of a late 1800s mine cart rail from those mountains.

Yet it was a position studying iron shock loading for the U.S. Army as part of his master’s thesis that settled Gray’s career path. He found himself drawn to the challenge of linking iron’s microstructure to its effect on shock-loading response and impact on the post-shock structure/property behavior—a challenge that is central to his Los Alamos research today.

Gray earned his doctoral degree in metallurgical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, and then investigated cracks and stress on alloys during a three-year postdoctoral fellowship at Germany’s Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg.

Rusty Gray

'Super dedicated scientist'

Now, Gray leads MST-8’s Dynamic and Quasi-Static Loading experimental team, by example.

“He’s an amazing person and a super dedicated scientist who’s driven a lot of the research we do,” said Saryu Fensin, his former postdoctoral research and a current member of his team in MST-8. “Rusty has developed a lot of capabilities for the Lab that we’re still using today and is still coming up with new science ideas. He’s been critical in getting the data and physics needed to develop damage and failure models.”

These strength, damage and failure models include improvements to the physics behind the mechanical threshold stress and Preston-Tonks-Wallace strength models and the tensile elastic plastic damage model.

Rusty Gray