Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Being Innovative: Dana Dattelbaum

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

Dana Dattelbaum

A dynamic proponent for light source–focused mesoscale materials research

Leveraging her background as a prolific experimentalist and principal investigator, Dana Dattelbaum is setting the technical direction of the Dynamic Materials Properties Campaign (C2) at Los Alamos National Laboratory in innovative ways.

C2 is part of a National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) program that conducts experimental science in support of the nation’s Stockpile Stewardship Program, which ensures the safety, security and reliability of the nuclear stockpile in the absence of weapons testing.

As the Lab’s C2 program manager, Dattelbaum oversees research to develop enhanced predictive physics-based weapons models. Dattelbaum, who has almost two decades of weapons-relevant experience, intends to hone these efforts by exploring the potential for new x-ray free-electron light sources to illuminate mesoscale materials dynamics.

The mesoscale is the spatial scale where a material's structure strongly influences its macroscopic behaviors and properties — including strength, stability under heat and pressure, compressibility, and durability in use over time.

Dana Dattelbaum

Dana Dattelbaum inspects a liquid cell containing an electromagnetic gauge membrane for use in shock initiation experiments on liquid explosives.

Mesoscale discoveries from improved modeling and exascale computing capabilities

However, the complex nature of a material’s microstructure at the mesoscale is difficult to probe with traditional techniques.

Even more difficult is the ability to observe changes over time when materials are subjected to extreme, dynamic forces.

New, high-brilliance x-ray sources, like those at the Linac Coherent Light Source at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the Dynamic Compression Sector at the Advanced Photon Source, have already provided mesoscale discoveries that challenge many model assumptions when combined with improved modeling and exascale computing capabilities.

MaRIE, the Lab’s proposed Matter-Radiation Interactions in Extremes concept, aims to provide future mesoscale discoveries. “Many of our nuclear weapons models are calibrated to data at the bulk or continuum-scale,” Dattelbaum says. “But by getting more details at the mesoscale, we could construct more predictive, physics-based models that improve predictability in weapons regimes and off-normal conditions.”

To deliver such results, Dattelbaum is gathering input from Los Alamos weapons scientists about their data and diagnostic needs. She is organizing seminars at U.S. Department of Energy headquarters in Washington, D.C., that showcase C2 research. She engages with members of the scientific community to develop new x-ray techniques, new mesoscale probes and ways to combine those experimental techniques with models.

Dattelbaum is also eager to hear new ideas and to engage people from different technical backgrounds and disciplines in tackling C2 challenges.

How it all began: catalytic cracking of hydrocarbons for renewable fuels

Dattelbaum began conducting research as a student in her Maryland high school, which was partnered with a chemical company. She spent her senior year conducting chemical analysis on the catalytic cracking of hydrocarbons for renewable fuels.

That early exposure to chemistry in action, compounded by academic research positions and a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, brought Dattelbaum to Los Alamos in 2001 as a Director’s Funded Postdoctoral Fellow.

A desire to connect to the Laboratory’s mission and explore how materials perform in extreme environments led her to become a principal investigator, project lead and team leader on several static high pressure and shock physics projects for national security sponsors.

Outstanding leadership

Dattelbaum is the recipient of a Los Alamos Fellows Prize for Outstanding Leadership and nearly a dozen NNSA Defense Programs Awards of Excellence. She is an American Physical Society Fellow, nominated by the Shock Compression of Condensed Matter Topical Group — a recognition even more noteworthy considering her degree is not in shock physics, or physics in general.

Dattelbaum researches shock and detonation physics in her limited spare time, and her favorite experiment — which made the first measurement of its kind in the United States — is detailed in the box below.

Her scientific expertise and role as C2 program manager allow her to advance understanding of dynamic material properties and enrich the Laboratory’s stockpile stewardship mission for years to come.

Dana Dattelbaum

Dattelbaum researches shock and detonation physics in her limited spare time, and her favorite experiment — which made the first measurement of its kind in the United States — is detailed in the box below.


Dana Dattelbaums favorite experiments